As a kid, secrets were fun ( and mostly harmless). They involved discussions of secret crushes, observations ( I saw her eating chalk near the blackboard ew) or a book club that knew the ending of that favorite movie months before it came out. Chinese whisper was the only socially acceptable way of speaking in hushed tones into your neighbor’s ear which if done at any other time drew stinky looks and angry eyeballs from everyone else.
In the Harry Potter universe, secret keepers have a pivotal role to play. The premise of the murder of Harry’s parents by Voldemort revolves around this concept. The person entrusted with the secret of their whereabouts turned himself to the Dark Lord. As a kid reading Harry Potter books, the concept of such high level secret keeping (the sort that can lead to murder) was thrilling and novel. Peter Pettigrew, the secret keeper who was the disloyal friend that caused the murder was loathed and hated. When I revisited the books recently, the concept didn’t seem unfamiliar anymore and atleast a dozen Peter Pettigrews of the real world came to my mind. Ah, the agonies of adulthood!
To me, society functions in concentric circles of people. There is an innermost circle of the closest people in your life and grows outward. The degree of affection decreases and the level of secret keeping increases as you venture into the outer concentric circles. People move between inner and outer circles but often, in a lifetime, the inner circle remains the same. As you go through life, more people are added to each circle as one sees fit. All this is completely normal, except when one finds themselves in the outer circles all the time. I like to call these people, the non-secret keepers.
This is the group that gets the late invitations, the hesitating dinner calls, more cancellations/no-shows to a party and is often the last to hear of important news. As a result, the lives of this particular group of people who constantly flit from one outer circle to the next, is a string of surprises/bombshells. You hear news from people who moved to a new place months after they actually did or found a new job after they finish a year at them. They are the kind who hear about secret dinner parties/ movie viewing nights over lunch the next day. They are not completely ignored (whatsapp messages do count and replies do come, albeit weeks later) but not included either. This is the group that never gets to be the secret keepers, although, by now, it must be a relief to many (including me).
Jokes aside, with the penetration of social media, the fear of oversharing has led to forming these secret-keeping societies with different levels of information provided to each circle of people. Sharing important events like buying a new house, car or landing a new job, is no longer considered the norm. It is strange that in this era of connectivity and instantaneous global audience, people choose to form tighter offline groups in secret while providing superfluous content like memes and jokes ( and annoying Buzzfeed lists) for the outer circles to consume. More difficult, is figuring out which circle of importance you have landed on, with no prior clues whatsoever. Navigating social groups was tricky as is, with now the added complexity of secret keeping.
If you are still reading this column and are scratching your head about what my point is, here it is: I don’t think today’s society is any closer due to social media/internet than what it was 30 years ago. If anything, it is become a society of secrets. Atleast in the pre-social media days, physical distance was an actual reason to lose your spot in the inner circles. Today the mentality is different. One might be a friend on all social media platforms, but that just means you get to see favorite baby elephant videos and discover, as your “friend” did last week, if you still remain in Gryffindor. (by taking the quiz they shared, of course). As for actual relevant personal developments, good luck, my outer circle “friend”.
Secrets lead to secrets and I have had to force myself to do this as well. Maybe this is called growing up? I wish it didn’t.