The New York Times proposed a pretty interesting question “How important is it to do archive or write about our lives, and what is the best way to go about it when there are so many options and so little time? ”
The Times respondent Christine Nelson crafted an intriguing reply on the matter with one line that stuck out significantly for me, “If we pine for a golden age of diary keeping, let’s indeed be honest: the pens and notebooks of the past inspired a truth no more — and no less — pure than the digital tools of today.”
Chronicling our lives is imperative in fostering our ability to grow as humans and adapt to new challenges. It is only through thorough self-reflection we can see who we really are and understand the depth of our emotions and the true impact of our actions.
There very well may be any number of legitimate reasons to capture ones thoughts and reactions on a regular basis, but ask anyone who’s done so over the course of time and the insight, even as vain, or vapid as it might be, offer a window to a time since past, if only by a day. The true value is in self-identification even if the reflection isn’t the pleasant view we’d hope to see.
Sure, one can think back, recollect, and relying on a shaded memory of what one believe once was… but chances are you mis-remember it. Memories fade, almost immediately for most people, devaluing at the rate of a car leaving the showroom lot. Nothing is as impressive as the first moment and nothing as difficult to grasp as the tainted bygone leftovers. In fixing the memory to some more tangible form it takes on a more subtle life, it has roots in the time of its creation and remains there without the artifacts that come along with the passing of time.
It comes back to the old adage, “Perception is reality.” To a large degree we document online not that much different than anywhere else, with a tone that’s our own focusing on content as we see fit to express it.
The medium isn’t as important as the message and that’s really where the modern interpretation of chronology has changed – the medium. There’s a romantic idyllic concept to a bound personal journal and a cliche to the “Dear Diary” phrase that somehow overshadows our need to create something to leave behind providing the context of who we want to present. If we solely focus on the medium we get caught in that same nostalgic loop that stops us from moving forward with such past-times as reading, listening to music, watching film and creating equally as challenging works in the modern era.
Even as the medium changed, the message has not, I believe. For every personal journal that ended up being a sentence-a-day reflection of whatever captured the author’s eye there’s a corresponding tweet conceptualizing the same. For every pen-stroke shaded doodle there’s a glossy tumblr photo feed. For every mini-cassette recorded crackling voice there’s now a youtube video. For every novel length handwritten on yellowing parchment reflection there’s a blog not unlike the one you’re reading now. We may have changed the medium but we continue to share the interpretation of ourselves the same as it ever was, both in dizzying depth of the soul and in the most shallow of smut on the surface.
Collectors of personal works may no longer sift through basements and attics for faded photographs and torn journal pages to see our self-depiction, they’ll use their Search Box or services like the Wayback Machine to recreate some of the same thoughts. The digital footprint is every bit as valid as it’s tangible cousin in fixing our most personal expressions to tell our stories.
In the end, despite the perception of modern ‘digital’ fixation being fleeting and thoughtless there’s something to be learned by those who seek such knowledge, just as there was for those who previously took to pen and paper. I look back at my entries online spanning over a decade now and realize how far I have come as a human being, and in some cases, how far I still have to go to actually be who I believe myself to be. I tell the story of life in the way I wan to hear it at the time, no different than it would appear in any other journal and am left questioning my own interpretations, my own understandings, my own choices of what to share and how to craft it when I take the time to read back through the vast archive I’ve created.
It is in that last part that makes such a chronicle important. To write and never reflect back, to photograph and never re-see the images, to record and never listen again cheats the creator out of the beauty of their creation and thus allows them to stagnate. That’s not an indictment of those who choose for whatever reason not to revisit their past (I for one have a number of things I’m just as glad to have left in the past after creating them) but I do believe the value beyond posterity of much of creativity in the case of journals and diaries and letters is to be able to
Provided we can continue to preserve and catalog this array of outlets our collective human voice will be ever expansive. Perhaps now more than ever at any point in history we’re documenting ourselves as who we really are: spontaneous, narcissistic, hyperbolic entities juxtaposed with insightful, self-deprecating, diverse people. For all the terribly short-sighted, bigoted, trolling taunts from ignoramuses misusing the medium and overly demonstrating their lack of couth, class and caring there are countless acts of good will, just as there were great diary finds along with some fairly heinous ones over the years. We learn through all of this about the true dichotomy of the human condition in a fascinating way that allows the everyday writer’s words to hold a more theoretical equal weight as unknowns consistently leave a permanent mark, for better or worse, on parts of society historically not usually accessible to them.
As it was so aptly put in Kevin Smith’s Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back “The internet is a communications tool used the world over, where people can come together to bitch about movies and share pornography with one another.” In a most simplistic and sescinct fashion that’s not entirely untrue, particularly if given the liberty to interpret movies and pornography in more figurative ways.