Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Is the Art of Diary Writing Lost Forever?

With all the twitting, facebooking and blogging, are we as a society losing the art of journal writing? Does anyone keep a diary anymore? Does it matter? Can a blog replace a journal or a diary? I have spent much time pondering these questions as I foray into the blogging universe?

When was the last time you kept a diary? I myself was only a sporadic journal writer. As a child—well intention as I may have been—I meticulously inaugurated scores of blank notebooks, intended as dairies. The endeavor would rarely amount to more than ten entries, with only one exception—a beautiful, japanese style embroidered journal—a gift form my uncle Larry Bogdanow (may he rest in peace). I recently unpacked this ancient relic and reread it for the first time in about thirty years. Reading my diary was like opening a small window into my eleven year old world. Back then, I approached journal writing like many girls my age. I dated each entry and then predictably began: "Dear Diary", proceeding to write to my diary as if I was speaking to a best friend. Anne Frank and Judy Bloom's Margaret clearly influenced my stylistic techniques of journal writing. This prized possession of mine was a very private and the only thing I regretted about this particular journal, beautiful as it was in my eyes, was that it did not have a lock and a key. To protect the privacy of my most inner thoughts, resorted to hiding the diary under my mattress. In the diary, I describe the need absolute privacy was the only way to keep my writing completely honest with myself.
One of Minnie Crane Travel Journals and
my diary from when I was eleven.

How many children today keep a diary? None of my kids ever attempted writing one. Does gender influence journal writing? After all, I am card holding member of the Parents of Three Boys Club. Jeff Kinney's, Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, probably boosted diary writing among children today as much as Anne Frank Diary did generations earlier. But did the craze stick? Can diary writing compete with an elementary schooler's aspiration to facebook? For all the obvious reasons, I was thrilled to foment journal writing and purchased two copies Diary of A Wimpy Kid, Do It Yourself, for my for my sons upon their insistance. Sadly, both remain mostly blank and continue to collect dust on the bookshelf. Granted—this could be the equivalent of my own multiple failed attempts at writing a diary—but frankly I doubt they will show interest in writing a diary ever again. As they have grown, facebook has provided an outlet for the need to record what they are doing everyday. Each to a different extent, uses facebook to share with intimate circle of hundreds of friends, what they are up to on a daily basis. Is posting a facebook status the equivalent of a daily? Do one hundred and forty character tweets count as journal entries?

Call me old fashioned, but I believe something very important is being lost. I'm certainly not a technophobe. On the other hand, blogging for the first time in 2012, does not qualify my as a forerunner in the use of new technology. Yet, finding my great-grandmother's journals a few years ago, stirred something very powerful in me. It not only lead me to publishing her memoir, but it rased my appreciation for the documentation of our lives to another level. To find those lost journals, I sent my family on a treasure hunt, to forage crowded attics and dig through overflowing drawers. A hundred years from now, what will my great-grandchildren find as they go searching for clues about their past.  Certainly some may argue, that electronic records, have a better chance to survive, than a diary did a hundred years ago. After all, the cloud will not be destroyed in a house fire, a hurricane, a flood or even a war. Many hard copies of books, documents, photos or precious diaries have been lost to such catastrophes. While ten years ago, electronic files were easily lost as computers crashed or floppy disks became obsolete, today internet giants promise an infinite cloud to store our books, music, photos and documents. But will the cloud save my blog into the next century and beyond? Will my facebook profile be accessible to my descendants once I pass. What will this tell them about who I was?

What legacy will these snippets of our lives leave behind? In my interest in the genre of women's memoir written by their descendants I recently discovered a wonderful book by Barbara Anne Waite,  ELSIE: ADVENTURES OF AN ARIZONA SCHOOLTEACHER 1913-1916. Barbara chose to tell her grandmother's story in the "Wild West" by weaving together Elsie's diaries, letters and her own insights into Elsie's years in Arizona. The resulting book, shares many similarities to my great grandmother's story. One striking difference is how both women Minnie and Elsie, only eight years apart in age, chose to record their lives in a very different fashion. Minnie recorded her memoirs, many years after the fact in a long narrated fashion. Elsie kept a diary, compulsively recording short snippets of her day over a period of three years. Her entries are often not much longer than a tweet. So reminiscent of a facebook update are her entries, that I dare to name Elsie the predecesor to facebook. To get to know Elsie as a woman, one must read between the lines, very much in the same way, my great-grandchildren may have to do, if they are lucky to come across and gain my facebook profile. The difference is, that Facebook updates are meant publicize personal feelings, while diary entries are usually private and intended only for the author's eyes—at least until they die. Studying both will provide a picture into someone's personality. Schools and employers have been known to peek into facebook pages to gain insight into a potential recruit's character. Facebook has a policy to memorialize profiles which they created mostly to help mourners communicate with their loved one's on-line community. I don't believe their intention was to leave a legacy for generations to come, but is reassuring to know the records are maintained.

Diaries did not directly morph into blogs, though blogging may be a fairly closer analogy to journal writing than facebooking. Like journals, blogs come in a large variety of forms and functions. Their purpose though, is certainly different than diary writing. Or is it? Journals were mostly private and personal. At times they were published into books, much like blogs do today. Some blogs are posted publicly—to the world at large—while others are private, accesible by invitation only. While providing some privacy, the virtue of sharing the blog, changes the intention from a look inward to a form of communication. How will generations from now, gain access to these private blogs? Will the internet hosts of these blog understand the needs of family historians hundreds of years from now and declassify them?

Most of us have given up letter writing long ago for the faster more efficient e-mail.  Millions have moved away from books and into electronic readers. As a society, we bankrupted film manufactures, local photo shops since no one prints photos any more. Today photo libraries live in a virtual cloud and are displayed in electronic frames. As a genealogist—who studies personal histories—I worry about the future of all these forms of communication and documenting of our lives. Most of all, I am struggling to let go of diaries. What if facebook goes out of business? What if the cloud is not economically viable. I want to believe that today's younger generations still poses a need to connect with their inner-selves privately. Once, this seemed to be an innate human necessity which was popularly accomplished through diary keeping. Maybe the need for privacy has changed, someone will invent an iDiary and bring it into this rapidly electronic, paperless world. I hope that the internet will permit future generations to sift through its' vast cob webs, making hidden treasures more readily available than ever before. After all, it's the stored treasures of our past we might want to uncover someday.

Are you still writing a diary? Have your kids every written one? Do you think it's important? Share your thoughts! Write a comment!


  1. Hi Smadar,
    Another great article. Yes l do keep a diary infact 2. I dont write every day, but l do write. I write because as much as l live with my 2 grown up children l have no understanding adult to talk to so l write as if l am talking to an understanding adult!!
    For many many years l wrote a diary, and then in one particular abusive relationship after a row l opened up the said dairy by accident at an already written comment. I was shocked to realise on reading it that actually l wrote the same things after the dame rows, l also did the same thing after wards. So armed with this knowledge l broke the mould and changed tack. (Cant remember what it was ) but nevertheless l did the opposite to what l normally would.
    My second diary has come about from visiting a wise Godmother in Scotland last summer. I made comment about missing my grand children, she suggested finding a picture or something and just sendg it to them. With that in mind when l returned home i thought about it, then began writing a diary of my week, turning the pets into their own characters, writing as if l was talking to my grand daughters, my "book" of tales is now with a literary agent as we speak having illustrations made up for when my tales get published. I am so excited l have completed 2 further diaries in this now series of diaries.

    And l know that on occassion 2 of my daughters have written diaries/ blogs. Usually again when troubled but like me find it helps to get outyour feelings, thoughts ideas.

    I always write a travel blog/ diary of any journey l make to, talking to my reader. As yet l havent done anything with these, but hope to get published one day.

  2. Thanks Julie for sharing your diary stories. It is amazing how valuable they can be, helping us deal with our present and then looking back at them, like you said, realizing pattern and enabling us reflect and to change course. It's so great to hear they will be published soon! Congratulations! I look forward to reading the first and the ones to follow. I love reading personal accounts!

    Interestingly my great-grandmother, who's diary I published, allude to recording her story for the generations to follow and understanding it was a kind of legacy to leave, I don't think she could have envisioned it being published, read by so many and touching the lives of strangers.

    I'm sad that this wonderful and therapeutic art is disappearing in the younger generations. You give me hope!

  3. Hmm... well, I keep a sometimes journal online as a blog. You are right, it is definitely not the same as a diary. But I've never been good at keeping a diary, though I have tried many times. Notably, on every long trip I've been on, I brought a journal and wrote very little in it. It's just not for me...

  4. Interesting Barb. So you think the technology has helped you be better at journal writing. I think that's true for many people in a way. Still, it's not the same is it?


Thanks for sharing your comments!