The ability to document every moment is a tool unique to the lives of millennials. While our parents may have written about their day in a journal and occasionally taken pictures, millennials can update their status within moments of acing a test or eating a meal, while simultaneously taking selfies. Not only have Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram revolutionized the way we communicate with others, but the websites can also serve as tools for self-reflection: modern-day diaries.
But when every moment of our lives can be tweeted or snapped, does there remain a place for the humble art of journaling in our increasingly tech-dependent society?
Physical and emotional health
The primary and most acknowledged benefit of keeping a diary is stress relief. While walking around UTM I often overhear students talking nonchalantly about how stressed out they are, or how around exam season they can’t seem to get any sleep.
If not because they’re pulling all-nighters to study, students can often lose sleep due to stress. An article by Harvard Health Publications explains that “writing about thoughts and feelings that arise from a traumatic or stressful life experience may help some people cope with […] emotional fallout”.
The research that produced these findings was led by Dr. James W. Pennebaker, who is the chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas. Pennebaker’s research delves into the effects of expressive writing, also known as stream of consciousness writing, which, according to the article, is said to “foster intellectual processes” since writing about a traumatic event can “help someone break free of […] endless mental cycling”. The research also goes on to show that a reduction of stress can lead to a stronger immune system. So journaling can not only benefit one’s emotional health, but can also have a positive effect on one’s physical health.
What about the good times?
For many people, having something bad occur in their life can be the trigger that first introduces them to journaling.
First-year life sciences student Anjali Rai told The Medium, “It’s only when I have bad experiences that I write and try to get my feelings out,” though she used to write more regularly in the past.
Rai’s tendency to only write about bad things that happen to her is echoed in the studies performed by Pennebaker. From my own personal experiences, I can say that I don’t think an event needs to be “traumatic” for writing about it to serve some kind of purpose. And while writing about things that upset you is usually the gateway to starting a regular diary, I don’t think that writing needs to be confined only to those moments when you find yourself upset.
Aside from a tool to relieve stress, a diary or journal can be a great way to record your own life story. It was my senior year of high school when I started to keep a regular journal. While I had let the rest of my secondary school years pass me by, I knew that senior year was going to be a really important time in my life, so I decided to keep a log of everything that was happening and how I felt. During that time, I recorded what I was thinking when picking out my university, and how it felt to hang out with my best friends, who are now spread out across Ontario. Now when I look back, I have memories that go far beyond the reach of a camera lens.
Paper vs. technology
While social media has become a bigger part of people’s lives in recent years—sites like Facebook and Instagram have become a sort of modern day journal and album, Facebook uses the timeline to allow users to see into their friends’ pasts via photos and past posts—there are still those who choose the humble diary, each for their own reasons.
When I asked Rai if she thought Facebook served as an adequate replacement for a journal, she disagreed. “Facebook is too public,” she says. “Why would you want to broadcast your feelings and emotions to everyone?”
Rai brings up an interesting point: that Facebook is a manufactured account of one’s life. It isn’t a place to share your feelings; many people learn this the hard way when embarrassing posts written in the heat of the moment are spread over the Internet quickly.
What social media sites do best is capture the factual details of what happens in our lives—the who, what, and where. But journals allow us to go beyond merely logging events—they challenge us to find meaning in our thoughts and actions, and thereby give us a greater sense of self.
Alternatives for the diehards
For those who still feel like the classic Moleskine journals are ready for retirement, there are online alternatives aside from social media sites that can help you start journaling. Aside from blogs, which have the downside of being public, apps like Penzu and Day One are great user-friendly platforms that allow users to create private journal entries, which also have the main advantage of being password protected.
Since many millennials have grown up with the comfort of the white noise of their laptop fan and rhythmic clicking of their laptop keys, there may be space for a new normal to coexist with the humble Moleskine. Shakespeare may have written his plays by hand, but several bestsellers today have been typed using a computer. Keys do not quell creativity.
This article has been corrected from the print edition. The photo was credited to Mahmoud Sarouji instead of Assia Messaoudi.