I am a student of history and find great value in reading the personal journals of ordinary people during historic times. Perhaps the most famous of these in recent history is Anne Frank’s diary, but there are countless examples.
This got me thinking about our personal and family history. Many of us, me included, primarily journal in a digital format. Whether it is Day One, Obsidian, or Microsoft Word, I have thousands of pages of personal reflection going back to 1989. (I started journaling using notebooks in 1982 and digital journaling in 1989 using WordPerfect, then transitioned to Word in 1992 or '93.)
Few of us are journaling with history in mind. In fact, most of us keep our journals encrypted and protected from prying eyes. While my great-grandchildren may find it interesting to read about some of my day-to-day trials and triumphs, these are not meant for my family, friends, or co-workers today. I process and reflect on what is happening in life, and sometimes that includes conflict with people I both love and respect. This doesn’t mean we are in a constant state of conflict, but if you cherry-pick various journal entries, one could conclude there is a lot of strife in my life, which isn’t true. (I tend to write more when I am stressed or worked up about something, so, naturally, times of trials prove to be more abundantly covered than when it is smooth sailing.)
This is where the dilemma lies: while I would like my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to read my journals after I am gone, I really don’t know if I would be comfortable printing them out and having them sit on a shelf. I know we can leave instructions including passwords for our children as part of our estate, but will those files get handed down to future generations? A handwritten journal becomes a keepsake that gets handed down. Links to files and passwords? Probably not.
Also, I cannot deny that there is something magical in reading my handwritten journals from 1982-1989. There is a certain nostalgia and intimacy with those journals that is lacking when I flip through a binder of printed text.
I have swung back and forth with keeping a paper journal, but I think and write better when I am typing, and the encryption gives me the freedom to fully express myself that simply does not exist when I write in a paper notebook. Still, I wonder if we are missing something by not being more intentional about what we keep in analog format vs digital. Would we have Anne Frank’s diary if she had owned an iPad?