Since their inception, social networks have been about one thing: connecting people. Actually, they’re about a lot of things, too many things probably, but the general idea is to take people, turn them into “users,” and then bring them together in the digital world.
As we’ve traditionally known them, platforms have placed inherent value on our real-world identities; the people we interact with are a mix of people we know IRL and Internet-only. But now there are a new slew of apps that do away with this concept completely. They are anonymous. Your profile isn’t remotely important, and your photos aren’t necessary. All that they want are your deepest, darkest secrets—the stories you’d never tell Facebook, or even Twitter.
Chief among them is Whisper. The app has swiftly become a social contender, even edging into gossip news territory. There are a variety of troubling, maudlin, angsty, and otherwise better-kept-secret stories populating Whisper. But amid all this, something unexpected is happening: people are meeting. As in, in real life.
It seems odd that an app where you go not to share the basics about yourself (where you live, what you do, what you look like, who your friends are, etc) but to talk about extremely personal, significant details is creating real-life relationships. Isn’t the traditional idea to meet somebody based on generalities, and then slowly peel back their layers, getting to know them and all their intricacies as we go? Hasn’t everything told us it’s better this way?
Whisper seems to disagree. The person behind the above post told me she commented on a Whisper of her now-fiancé, and that she then messaged back privately. The original Whisper said something to the effect of “I’m ready to find the one,” and the comment was a simple “me too!” They’ve been dating long distance and are now engaged.
If we’d seen something to that extent roll through Facebook, it would be ignored or worse, labeled “pathetic.” And the visual approximation of wanting to find someone wouldn't be conveyed through Instagram; an app that's about filtering out the ugly would never admit as much.
Another couple met via Whisper by exchanging numbers, moving to texting and snapchatting, and eventually meeting in person. They said that complete, brutal honesty was very important to both of them.
“We would both say that we tell each other everything and when we post Whispers, we tell the other," one user told me. "We are honest and open. She truly is my best friend.”
It’s incredible—a little terrifying, even—that an app populated by confessions could spur a romance, or even friendship. I certainly wouldn’t prefer a potential significant other’s first impression of me to be something so… so honest. I’ve been taught to manicure and, yes, manipulate my online profiles so they reflect the best version of myself. This seems completely counter-intuitive to those efforts.
But perhaps that’s what’s inspiring these connections. Maybe being so unkempt, so devoid humblebragging in comparison to our other online selves, is part of the attraction.
“I posted something about my depression and she replied saying she knew what I was going through and we’ve been inseparable ever since,” one user told me, about how a very honest interaction led to meeting their fiancé.
It isn’t all romance, either. Friendly meetups are being organized and advertised on Whisper so users in the same location can get together in real life and meet the people behind those text-on-stock-photo posts.
There’s certainly a thrill in being privy to such personal information. Think about the first time a boyfriend or girlfriend, or just a good friend, revealed something secret, maybe even shameful to you. You became a keeper of that information, and sharing it had a almost drug-like effect on you, attaching you to that person more tightly and intimately.
Maybe it’s not so surprising that Whisper is creating such bonds of affection.
Photo via mooks262/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)