Secrecy in the Age of Overshare

When news broke that Anna Chapman, the sexiest member of the alleged Russian spy ring, was based in Manhattan, it seemed both charmingly retro (invisible ink? Really?) and entirely apt. New York has always been a hotbed of secrets, simmering to be told. Just as Chicago is built on cattle futures, or whatever, and Los Angeles runs on images, this city’s power structure is undergirded by the trade of information,  the delicate and ever-shifting micromanagement of rumor and gossip-“news running ahead of itself in a red dress,” as the columnist Liz Smith famously put it. Every one of our core industries-Wall Street, tech, media, real estate and politics-is affected by secrecy.

What does secrecy mean these days in New York, when the great majority of residents are leading supposedly ‘transparent’ lives online?

So, too, are the private lives of our citizens, many of whom come here explicitly to live in the strange solitude afforded by the proximity to millions of other like-minded people.

But what does secrecy mean these days in New York, when the great majority of residents are leading supposedly “transparent” lives online, updating their relationship status and personal tastes and whereabouts on Facebook and Foursquare and Twitter? When the security cameras installed since the terrorist attacks of 2001 follow our every step from Wall Street to Central Park? When confessional culture-the triple “T” threat of talk therapy, TV and tabloids-has infiltrated the most remote corner of our psyches? How the heck did “overshare” come to be a word in Webster’s, anyway? In an age when anyone and everyone is a memoirist, are there any secrets left to be told?

Plumbing our secret sourcebook in the midst of a long, hot summer (which we secretly like), we at The Observer endeavored to answer these questions. Leon Neyfakh examines the changing nature of trust in relationships, the way blogs and other forms of Internet media have effectively professionalized our friends and acquaintances (“This is off the record, O.K.?” now being the default refrain). In the wake of repeated revelations of male infidelity-Tiger, Mark, Eliot, et tu, Al?!-Maria Russo wonders if we’ve been neglecting the second sex’s perhaps more complex transgressions. Max Abelson looks at the one big secret no one on Wall Street likes to admit. And Irina Aleksander, taking Ms. Chapman and her cohorts seriously, infiltrates the leafy world of Montclair, N.J. (the secret suburban refuge of many Manhattan media players). Reid Pillifant profiles the mayor’s secret weapon, Bradley Tusk, and John Koblin enjoys an intimate rendezvous with Gawker lady lawyer Gaby Darbyshire. Meanwhile, our fresh-faced team of interns-secret superstars, all!-slammed shut their laptops and fanned over the city to interview the people who, solicited or not, hear everything: shopgirls, bellboys, waiters, doormen and rabbis (only the shrinks held their counsel). Lastly, critic Lee Siegel offers a scathing indictment of democracy’s pseudo-virtuous demand that no prurient secret be left untold. 

Some secrets, of course, are just pure fun, which is why running along the bottom of this special issue you’ll find our list of New York’s sub rosa pleasures: pastimes and people that have somehow managed to escape the nonstop hype machine that now extends to every iPhone. Happy hiding-and hush, hush, sweet city, hush!                                   

The Editors

Secrecy in the Age of Overshare