H. R. Haldeman’s job as White House Chief of Staff to President Richard Nixon required a great deal of discretion. A close confidant and “gatekeeper” to Nixon, throughout his tenure Haldeman kept a daily diary brimming with all the state secrets he was entrusted with.
Around January 1973, his entries took on an anxious tone: "We had some discussion about Watergate, and I filled him in on all the coverage in the paper on that today, and the fact that it's building up,” he wrote. "He feels that our people should take the Fifth Amendment rather than getting trapped into testifying.”
The scandal he describes would eventually land Haldeman in prison for 18 months for conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Perhaps diaries like these were the “friends-only” Facebook feeds of their day. Some people decry the epidemic of over-sharing on social media, but according to new research, gushing out information might not be as bad as keeping it all in.
The Columbia University professor Michael Slepian has found that secrets can literally weigh people down. In one of his studies, he asked gay men to help him move some boxes of books. Those who said they weren’t out of the closet opted to move fewer boxes. In another experiment, he found that people who were troubled by the fact that they had recently had an affair thought of everyday tasks, like carrying groceries upstairs or walking a dog, as more physically burdensome.