Tag Archives: cyberdiary


Today’s diary-keepers face a decision: Will you make marks on paper with a hand-held writing implement, or enter typed text from a keyboard into an online file?

Both sides have passionate adherents, and while there aren’t too many things you absolutely can’t do in the “other” format, the time and effort involved may differ tremendously. In short, some things that you might want to do with your diary come more naturally with a physical book, while other desired results come more rapidly and easily in a digital environment.

Ten points to keep in mind as you weigh the pros and cons of a cyberdiary:

  1. Electronic text documents can be configured as easily searchable. If you want to find every occurrence of a place-name or a person through all the volumes of your diary, or tag entries with a keyword/category so you can pull out all the entries that have something in common, these processes can be accomplished much more quickly and easily with an electronic document. It’s not that a notebook can’t be indexed, as Bullet Journal devotees will attest. But indexing by hand has severe limitations compared with the facility of these features common to text-processing programs.
  1. The electronic diary may easily absorb digital photographs, image files, and audio and video clips. It can readily incorporate hyperlinks, too, for the diary’s reader to explore. Upon the page of a physical book, on the other hand, you can easily affix little pieces of real life: a postage stamp, a bar napkin, a train ticket, a receipt, a pressed flower. For some diarists, the reproduced image of an autumn leaf does not possess the same power as the brittle-textured, faded leaf layered over with cellophane tape in the hands of the original writer. People who value the creation of a unique material keepsake may find the look-and-feel of an electronic journal too generic and impersonal for their taste.
  1. For those who like the idea of sharing, an online post accomplishes this task instantly and effortlessly. Copies multiply and get distributed with miraculous ease compared with the amount of work and time involved to stand before a copy machine, scanning or reproducing (especially a hardbound book) page by page. When my friend Hanna lived and worked in Japan, she relates, “I wrote almost every night on my computer. It was quicker and then I could adapt my journaling into letters.” But even in places with scarce connectivity she maintains the habit, instilled by her mother ever since she was a teenager on her first trip abroad: “When I travel, I keep a diary and handwrite my adventures every night.”
  1. A public online diary, especially if focused on a trending topic, can instantly build virtual community among people who were strangers to each other seconds earlier—something that, for a book diary, entails the time and effort of bringing a book to publication.
  1. As well as writing words, some people sketch and scribble in their journals. This process can now be approximated with a tablet computer and plastic stylus. Yet some people still find those tools less nimble and pleasurable for sketching than an artist’s pen or pencil held between the fingers.
  1. Even if made entirely of words, a diary written by hand reveals the writer through varied lettering. The personal stamp of handwriting can represent either a plus or a minus. Seeing the letters waver and fade in a fatigued hand, or grow large, intense, and bold when the writer gets wrought up, might enrich and flavor the experience of reading. Studies suggest that writing by hand may benefit memory and emotional health. Conversely, typing offers relief for those who find writing by hand a tedious and muscle-cramping travail. And that frustration may grow even more when they try to decipher their own illegible words.
  1. A diary’s privacy may be more safely guarded through password protection and encryption than by trying to conceal or tuck away a physical notebook—not to mention the level of security offered by the flimsy padlock on a classic stationery-store diary.
  1. The book-diary can remain rooted in the place of its birth, perhaps never leaving the rooms in which its writer lived and wrote. By turning up in that place long afterward, the book might become part of the place’s history. The scenario of discovering an old diary in the attic, or among a trove of inherited material, grows more likely if that diary was created and stored as a material artifact. A cloud-based diary is more likely to “turn up” long afterward by means of someone’s intentional web search for place names or people mentioned in it.
  1. If you want to generate entries on the move, carrying a physical diary around everywhere may feel cumbersome. And the practice of pulling out a notebook in a public place and starting to write in it may create a more attention-getting spectacle than typing into one’s mobile device or even—as some apps allow—dictating an entry from voice to text.
  1. And finally, the evanescence of electronic text means that the document lends itself much more easily to revision. Deletions, insertion of new text, re-ordering of passages, and other editing can take place any time after the initial writing, ultimately leaving hardly a trace of the earlier draft. If you see your diary practice as a commitment to impressions formed in the moment—a first-take preserved, the hot-striking iron valued—you may prefer a diary that actually makes it harder to cross things out or add annotations without leaving evidence of such changes upon the page.


What will diaries become in the digital age? 

Screenshot of a site discussing journal-writing appsBy now, online journaling apps and sites seem like the standard way to keep a diary. People who write with pen and ink in their diaries may resemble those nostalgia-seekers who make a show of collecting phonographs, rotary telephones, or manual typewriters. But the book-diary endured for centuries, and it’s intriguing to imagine a fresh use for this form even in the age of live blogs, fake news, image blotting out text as the primary carrier of meaning, and shrunken attention spans. 

The diary, a highly adaptable structure, has fitted itself over time to many human endeavors: religious and spiritual seeking, social connections, psychotherapy, scientific data-gathering, literary experimentsand philosophical contemplation.  

Diaries can provide companionship for the solitary traveler and an attentive, non-judgmental listener at times when no other support is available.  Diaries bear witness to history on a grand scale and preserve key moments in personal or family history. Diaries open a space where the writer can rehearse her resistance to social pressures—or build up strength to take a public stance on a challenging moral issue.  

Can the digital diary—often a live blog or social media account that chronicles its author’s life by the hourserve a similar range of purposes?  Does its electronic format represent a necessary adaptation to the contemporary era, or will it kill off the aspects of the diary that offer the most value? For example, the digital diary doesn’t stay in the place where it was written. It probably won’t be discovered by chance a hundred years from now in an attic by people living in the place that the diary describes. 

But so far, print books have not become obsolete in the advent of ebooks. We need not assume that the next phase of the diary’s history will involve converting them all into digital files stored in data warehouses. Maybe the diary will live through this century and beyond while maintaining its home in the realm of paper and ink.  

If it does evolve as a primarily digital and online form, will the diary re-energize and thrive on its metamorphosis into curated collection of instantly-available quips and images, or will it—akin to the “slow foods” movement—find some way to reclaim the benefits of concentrating attention for a longer time, reflecting and exploring ideas through writing, with entries that even dare to wait a little, flirting with obsolescence, before their release to the eyes of a worldwide audience?  

The diarists of today will define the diary of tomorrow. Like the mythical figure of Proteus, the diary has shown that it can shift its shape to counter each new challenge. Let’s think about our practices and choices. What will the new shapes of diary-making mean for our personal journey, our future readers, even for history?