NEU Confessions was designed with an idea centered around the question “how does one feel knowing that the safety of a private event is stripped away for an exchange of a secret of another?” Well the answer to that is compassion. Knowing that someone out there has experienced something so impactful in one’s life that it should better be left hidden leaves a powerful message: vulnerability exists in everyone. Surprisingly, after personally participating in the event, I feel less “alone” knowing that someone else has voluntarily offered a peek into an event that in a public space will fall scrutiny to judgement.
NEU Confessions is designed to be a nonintrusive intervention that relies on the trust between individuals through anonymity. The rules are to write down one confession or secret that one is willing to share in return for an exchange of a secret from another random participant. The ideal location for this activity is in a public space with a lot of university students (individuals who are most likely within the same age range and are more “free-spirited” and willing/comfortable participating in public interventions).
After some research, the intervention has similar bearings with the popular ongoing PostSecret mail art project, created by by Frank Warren wherein participants mailed their secrets anonymously on a homemade postcard, which would then be revealed to the public online and in a book. Warren’s intention was to empower both the participant of the project and the reader, as well as create inspiration or healing for those who write the secrets and give hope to those who identify with the stranger’s secret — in effect, creating ‘an anonymous community of acceptance’. Both his and my interventions also draw from fundamental ideas of the new games movement. Public participation, cooperation, and the emergence of communities are some of the ideas pushed behind the movement, and NEU Confessions attempts to do the same in our Northeastern school environment. I believe many students are naturally drawn to the curiosity of belonging, which is something that is commonplace in social media (in the form of Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, questionnaires and polls on ASKfm, Quora). Media sites such as Buzzfeed provide a list of questions that one answers to determine traits and preferences (ranging from favorite foods, Disney princesses, star signs) aimed to provide amusement like tarot cards. NEU Confessions provides an exchange that differs from the one-way exchange that occurs on the internet, as writing with pen and paper is more personal and intimate.
Design Iterations and Testing
Initially I was intrigued with the idea of random acts of kindness as an attempt for a public intervention. I also preferred non-intrusiveness from the act (more similar to a score rather than performance art in comparison to the Fluxus movement). The combination of the two led to me creating a secret exchange, which transformed into confessions. To set up the activity, I initially wrote a couple secrets of my own and had a few friends write some (to start off the initial exchange) and placed them all in a box, secret folded up on paper. I then sat outside in a busy area on campus and waited to provide students with the opportunity to share their secrets.
The results of the activity were harder to document, as my first initial test made it so I did not participate in the activity for anonymity purposes. However, I did observer amusement from a few individuals who participated. My second playtest was in the classroom, which went much better as the additional fact that the participants “knew” one another (the secret is tied to one out of the ~20 people in the room). From my observations, I heard comments such as “Wow, I got a good secret” and other individuals who wanted to see more. From observation, some of the secrets could range from taboo topics such as crime, sex, and drugs, all of which come from a personal place. I definitely felt as if NEU Confessions created the reaction that I hoped it would, and it would be interesting to see if an iteration where every secret would be revealed for all the eyes (similar to PostSecret) would be a prefered option.