As a child, journaling always fascinated me. It seemed like such an elevated activity, because you would be writing down your most personal thoughts. There was so much beauty in both the writing and the ability to consistently do something for an extended period of time — to keep a record of your thoughts, so to speak.
I remember the first time I read Stephen Chobsky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” a series of journal entries that Charlie, the protagonist, writes to his unnamed friend. The book left me feeling inspired, because there was something so personal about being able to commit to recording your thoughts. Unlike the somewhat pedantic classics that I read in English class, I often found myself thinking back to this novel, wanting to do something similar myself.
But beyond appearing in novels, journaling is prevalent elsewhere too. It’s an activity as old as time, with famous figures like Leonardo da Vinci, Mark Twain, Albert Einstein and Frida Kahlo all having kept journals during their lives.
Today, multiple communities exist that have kept journaling in the mainstream. Creative thinkers and entrepreneurs use journals to tinker with ideas and write down their aspirations. Students look toward bullet journals to plan their time and maximize productivity — there’s even a whole Tumblr community that has embraced bullet journaling and stationary as a time-management tool. More broadly, journaling has been marketed as an escape from the nonstop tumult of our everyday lives. It’s a place where you can spend time collecting your thoughts on your own terms, without the distraction that is the internet.
It almost seems unbecoming that journaling has become digitized. Digital journaling, whether through a simple note-taking app or dedicated journal apps, has gotten a bit of an unconventional reputation. For such a personal and often vulnerable activity, wouldn’t it be better to do it on paper like so many others have done in the past?
Many activities that have transitioned to the digital space suddenly feel less genuine. Take communication, for example. Emails and social media are great, but they can’t beat face-to-face conversation. Reading books? It’s convenient to do on a Kindle, but it can’t replace the feel of a print book. Catching up with friends and making new ones? As most of us can agree, doing so through a screen like on FaceTime or Zoom just isn’t the same as doing it in person.
Likewise, digital journaling can also feel a little impersonal, not to mention a bit counterintuitive if you’re trying to find respite from the computer screen. However, if your goal in keeping a journal is to remember and keep track of what’s happened in your life, then electronic journaling is the way to go. It’ll be even more rewarding than doing it on paper.
First and foremost, journaling on your computer or on your phone is more accessible, and this benefit cannot be emphasized enough. I can’t even count the number of times I started writing my first entry in a fresh journal, only for it to be lost or never used again.
Journaling at its core is a hobby, and to go from starting a hobby to maintaining one requires significant time and effort. Writing your thoughts online instead of on paper is easier to do, and will lead to a more detailed and long-lasting journal.
To me, journaling feels more like a get-your-thoughts-on-paper type of activity, and having the ability to do it via keyboard instead of pen or pencil makes the process infinitely faster. Digital journaling makes it easier for you to jot down all your ideas, the good and the bad, which leads to more fulfilling diary entries. When it comes to journaling, I strongly believe in quantity over quality. Because if you are starting a journal, you’re probably doing it to collect your thoughts, not to craft a beautiful, succinct masterpiece. By typing your thoughts on a keyboard, you’re encouraged to write expansively, and not focus on smaller conventions.
Another strength of journaling online is that it standardizes everything. Just from seeing the perfect bullet journals online, as many journal communities like to show, I often felt pressured to emulate them and do the same with mine, whether that be by maintaining the same handwriting and same level of effort through the journal, or something else. It often got to the point that I would focus more on how my journal looked rather than what my journal contained. All of that is removed when writing online. The date and time are automatically recorded, and some apps, like Day One, can even track your location when writing your entries. These things that are automatically taken care of allow you to focus on just the writing.
At my high school graduation last week, one of my teachers gave a commencement speech. In it, he referenced a quote from Richard Hofstadter, Columbia University professor and Pulitzer Prize winner, who said, “Memory is the thread of personal identity.” If memory is integral to who we are, and if journaling is a way to record memorable moments in our lives, then digital journaling would be the most effective method.
At the end of the day, it requires significantly less effort to open your computer or phone and type out your thoughts than to use a pen. Since I started journaling, I’ve found that I tend to journal at the end of the day, and the temptation to skip it before bed can be very tempting. Therefore, it would be better to stick with the easier route, which is to journal online.
Any loss of personal touch through journaling electronically can be made up through your writing —something else that can reflect your distinct identity. If anything, your writing style is even more personal than your handwriting or your color schemes. In other words, the fact that you can’t customize online journals as easily as you can paper ones encourages you to look toward your writing style as a way of expressing your personality, which can lead to long-term benefits.
I feel like I’ve improved my writing more by journaling online, just by virtue of how much more I am able to write. And of course, I’ve also been able to remember more parts of my life.
An online journal may not be as inherently unique to you, but the writing in it will undoubtedly be more expansive. Your writing will improve, you’ll remember more and you’ll have a better chance of sticking with the activity for the long term.