I’ve done it! I’ve finally found the two websites that together reflect the human condition more accurately than the New York Times, Google or any of the salacious super-sites catering to every primal perversion imaginable.
One celebrates goals and the other reveals secrets.
At first glance, 43 Things seems rather odd and superfluous. It’s like a repository for everyone’s New Year’s resolutions, except no one’s waiting for the first of January to roll around. What could possibly be interesting about that, I hear you ask? Well, apart from voyeuristic curiosity, the site generates all sorts fascinating groupings, links and lists.
The premise is simple: everyone has at least 43 things that they want to do before they die. The website invites people to sign in, list them and tag each one with relevant descriptive words. The overall result is a dynamic snapshot of people’s collective hopes, dreams and neuroses.
At the time of writing, the site’s (world’s) most popular goals are:
- stop procrastinating
- lose weight
- write a book
- fall in love
- be happy
- drink more water
- take more pictures
- get married
- get a tattoo
- read more books
Any of these ring true? Indeed, most of the top 100 “things” are compellingly familiar, with a few others floating in from left field. After all, who doesn’t harbour a desire to one day “kiss in the rain” (#16), “skydive” (#31), “run a marathon” (#33), “decide what the hell I would like to do with the rest of my life” (#68), “win the lottery” (#74), “learn how to remember peoples’ names” (#96) or “get a Gmail account” (#98)?
Adding to the community vibe, users can post progress reports on their goals, get ideas from others who share their goals, mark goals off as they accomplish them and even “cheer” the goals of others. (Receiving recent cheers: “genetically engineer a dog that has pride”, “stop watching pointless TV”, “go to a nudist colony”).
Mercifully, 43 Things.com avoids the humourless narcissism that pervades many blogs and web boards by silently encouraging users to rest their tongues in their cheeks. Wandering through the site is like strolling down the street and hearing the inner monologues of passers by.
Where 43 Things lists only the things people will freely own up to, PostSecret is dedicated solely to highlighting the things people keep buried deep inside.
Founder Frank Warren began Post Secret as an art project. He invited people to create a postcard containing a secret and mail it anonymously to his Maryland post box. Pretty soon the project evolved into a website and Warren was being inundated with thousands of people’s artfully rendered confessions, regrets, fears and furtive dreams. He’s been described as an agnostic clergyman, encouraging people to relieve themselves of the funny, absurd and profound secrets they lug around day after day.
One card bears a painting of a boy on a snow sled and a girl off to the side, watching. In the bottom right hand corner are the hand-written words, “I whisper ‘I love you’ when I know you can’t hear me.” Another is a photo of a young woman flanked by two handsome men, all three in fancy dress. In black texta beneath their smiling faces it says, “I copy stuff from other people’s online journals and put it in my own …” Others are more life-affirming. One shows a girl on a tropical beach with the words, “I’m not afraid of death.” Another declares, “I’m the happiest that I have ever been … ever.”
Together, the two sites offer a window on the world of desire and regret. They may not be Shakespeare (though PostSecret often surges to the level of high art), but they are proof that technology can make us more human; that the internet can help us to become more ourselves. Hopes and secrets define us all, and we’re suckers when it comes to stealing a glimpse at what makes others tick. You can now whisper your inner-most thoughts and have them echo around the globe.
Paul D. Ryan is an editor and senior writer at Australian Anthill.