Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Rose By Any Other Name...

"Why is it that you still keep your journal in books?" my Dad asked me the other day as I was scribbling earnestly. "I mean, is there any particular reason you can't do it electronically?"

Well, no... but yes.

It'd just be... wrong.

Apart from demonstrating that I'm such a Luddite that even my father has overtaken me, happily keeping all his affairs in order on a tablet, his question made me wonder why the idea of keeping an electronic journal bothered me so much.

I guess there are a few reasons.
  • A Beginning And An End - I like the idea of a journal being a finite length. It captures a chunk of your life, as much as you can fit into those pages. It can span years or months, depending on how much you have to say, how much has been going on. It has a beginning and an end. Once you've run out of pages, as long as you're around to do so, you start another one.
    An electronic file can theoretically go on indefinitely, stretching out in a long and cumbersome fashion that takes an amount of navigation to find anything you may want to read again.
  • Fidelity - Sure a book journal could get wet, get mildew, be burnt or lost or ripped or stained, but that would be down to location and bad luck. And even when damaged, it may still be decipherable. Data files corrupt. They can do it for no particular reason, or your computer may get a virus or overheat or shut down or just plain die. Then your memories would be gone. We have books in museums that have survived since the advent of books, scrolls and parchments from earlier still which are still legible.
    If it comes to a choice, I trust paper.
  • Handwriting - Not long ago when asked why he still handwrites his first drafts, Neil Gaiman pointed to studies* that have been done that prove your brain interacts differently with language when you write compared to when you type. It has to pay more attention as you form the words and sentences in your mind, then has to direct the nerves and muscles involved in moving your pen across the page. It's more involved.
    You get to chose different coloured pens for different moods or events, different kinds of inks, different types of pen that affect how your writing looks and how you feel about the act of writing. For some people writing a journal can almost be an artistic act.
    The fact is that a lot of the history and memories tied up in journals aren't just in the words but are in the physical item, the visual cues. The feel of the book, the scent, the handwriting, crossings out, misspellings and sketches of your younger self, the stains or tears or marks it may have gathered along the way all evoke deeper memories or associated feelings.

These are some of the many things that make re-reading old journals so rewarding, enjoyable and immersive. Not just the words themselves but how they're presented, how you recorded them and how you get to re-experience them.

So yeah, Dad, I guess there is a reason why I still keep my journal in books.
Because it's beautiful and it's the act of creating something as I write that keeps me interested in keeping a journal at all.
The memories are precious but so are the package they're housed in.

*I didn't bookmark the specific article at the time and have no hope of wading through his twitter feed to find it so here are two lifehacker articles on the subject: A Defence of Writing Longhand and Why You Learn More Effectively By Writing Than Typing.

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