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  • Writer's pictureCherise Adams

The Evolution of Secret Societies

A few weeks ago, one of my sorority sisters asked me, "What was that oath of allegiance we used to recite at the beginning of every meeting?" She spoke a couple of the words that she remembered, but I couldn't remember them either. We'd learned it through repetition during our pledge semester, and much like other sororities, fraternities, and secretive organizations, the knowledge was passed down orally. However, all it took was a quick Google search of the words she remembered to uncover a Quizlet littered with flashcards of our organizations' history and secrets. Was I shocked? Well... not really.

Like the rest of the world, secret societies were forced to evolve with the changing flow of communication; where elder members once passed secrets down orally, print took over, then digital. Now, our sorority's headquarters has password-protected intranets filled with societal secrets shared across our thousands of members. This allows communication of the correct information every time (because the last thing you want is to sing the wrong words at a chapter visit). We can also extend our connections under shared values, which we saw in the summer of 2020 when sisters rallied together to demand change from the top-down for our BIPOC sisters. This evolution of communication is a prime example of the McLuhan Theory, which I'm sure will continue to be used to predict the future of communication. I'm not saying it'll be AI-based, but I'm not NOT saying it'll be AI based...

As thrilling as it is to reap the benefits of a digital secret society, there are also drawbacks to consider. First, the old ways never truly go away. There will always be oral history and information only accessible in print. Likewise, the value of these former traditions becomes exalted in society as inherently more valuable than the medium accepted as the status quo. Though we can view our membership roster online, I will always value the ceremonial act of pulling that membership book off the shelf and flipping through the pages. Though I can find the secrets of an organization on Quizlet, I will always prefer the act of being welcomed in by a group of sisters, taught their ways, and join in the community. Finally, there will always be a fight against the evolution of communication, a fair objection to watering down the quality of connection for the sake of accessibility. That's one thing being a member of a secret society has shown me: the tradition, the value, and the fight of preserving one moment in time, something that is rarely seen as special these days.

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