My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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haunting secrets

I organized a SXSW panel on global and local social play. A huge chunk of it consisted of getting people to play a game that Jane McGonigal (and Irina Shklovski and Amanda Williams and i) conjured up. The game was simple: pass on a secret that no one else at SXSW knows; that then becomes your secret; keep passing. The idea is that when i called stop, you’d have someone else’s secret as your identity and you would write this on a sticker that you’d stick to yourself for others to see. This made for some strange interactions. You ended up with men having “i had an abortion” written on them. The thing is… a month later… one of the serets still haunts me.

I steal Adderall from my kids.

I have no idea whose secret that was, whether it was a father or mother, whether the kids were young or old, whether or not it was a fabrication. Does the parent use the drug to work or to party? Does the kid have it to study or because so many kids have it when they don’t need it? I’m so used to kids stealing prescription drugs from their parents that it never dawned on me that parents would still them from their kids.

There’s also something interesting about the guilt embedded in that secret. And the idea that the Adderall is the possession of the kids and that when a parent takes it, it is stealing. (You would never say that you steal food from your kids even though you buy that for them too.)

Anyhow, i just had to share this secret because there’s something intensely personal and utterly fascinating about it. God i want to hug that mother/father and make sure that s/he is ok.

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12 comments to haunting secrets

  • Johanka

    I watched the short video sequence from this game on SXSW website and found it fascinating! Too bad I wasn’t there, I would have loved to participate. You rock, danah, seriously!

  • cathexys

    You probably know that, but this was a story line on Desperate Housewives a while back. Which might either suggest that it is quite common or that it was easy to make up…

    What an interesting game!

  • B

    I understand how hauting this might be–but what game could be thrilling if it isn’t dangerous?

    Funny aspect of it: I had no idea of what “Adderall” is, while you seem to consider everyone obviously knew what it is and that it can be expected in a child’s life, while it is unacceptable in a parent’s. This not being straightforward -kind of- lowers the intensity of it; however, it reveals a very peculiar vision of the body and medecine in your culture.

    Last question: I only checked in Wikipedia; how safe a source of information it is?

  • Anon

    As an amphetamine drug addict I must say the parent is making a huge mistake. Adderall is a drug which can really take hold. I have been taking the drug for over a year and cannot stop. I hope the parent seeks out help.

  • / expresses relief that I was not the only one to think of the Desperate Housewives storyline /

  • haunting as it may be, i wonder whether it’s okay to publicly share the secret that someone passed in a closed space. sure, it was public– as we discussed in the panel, this kept some of us from sharing something more personal. but it was still a closed room and limited space.

    what are your thoughts on this?

  • What constitutes closed? There was a camera rolling the entire time and you can go to SXSW’s website and watch it on video, including the person who voiced that secret (who is most likely not the person who shared it). The stickers were worn for hours following the panel – i saw plenty that night at the bar. I feel as though there was nothing closed or limited about that situation – it was exceptionally pourous and we tried to convey that at the beginning by discussing the point of the green stickers. It was very much set up to be a public display and to get into the tensions of public/private, the networks of secrets and the ways in which these features affect identity.

    I do think it would be horribly inappropriate to name names if i had any clue whose secret was whose.

  • I’m sure you know, but maybe some of your readers don’t so here there is a link to the video of the panel you organized with Jane McGonigal (and Irina Shklovski and Amanda Williams).
    http://server1.sxsw.com/2006/coverage/global_and_social_pn_int_2006_lo.mp4

    Links to different versions can be found at
    http://2006.sxsw.com/coverage/video/

    [maybe you might wish to update the post with the link to the video, or you prefer to be remembered in the CNN video? ;-) ]

  • oh, I forgot to mention I love when you say “make one UP!”, to say nothing about your pink-black-striped stuff (I don’t know how to name them … gloves?) ;-)

  • TWD -

    i saw plenty that night at the bar. I feel as though there was nothing closed or limited about that situation – it was exceptionally pourous and we tried to convey that at the beginning by discussing the point of the green stickers. It was very much set up to be a public display and to get into the tensions of public/private, the networks of secrets and the ways in which these features affect identity.

  • Rick Venglarcik

    Interestingly, while doing some research, I found that the phenomenon of apophenia was theorized to correlate to higher levels of dopaminergic action in the brain. What does Adderall increase? Dopamine levels. Increase the dopamine and increase the ability to recognize patterns that may or may not actually be there. At a level much deeper than we realize, we manipulate our brain chemistry to accomplish unconscious goals.

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