I don’t keep a journal. I mean, not really. Every once in a while, I try to begin one, and I eagerly crack open the pages of a notebook — blank, wide, open. “This time will be different,” I think to myself. But it never is, invariably I forget about it and find myself dropping trivialities onto the page in order to fill space. Really, I just want the satisfaction of seeing my own scratchy handwriting across sheets and sheets of paper. It’s all very narcissistic.
Journaling, in the traditional sense, is often performative. I picture myself years from now, packing up a moving truck, picking through a box of paperbacks and finding an old journal. It will be a key to my younger self, a way to better understand the person I’ve become. All that sentimental jazz. In reality, though, I probably won’t even bother to read it — or get through — the first few pages without cringing.
But I do keep a journal, sort of. I can look back on it with minimal discomfort, and I don’t have to search through memorabilia boxes to find it. It’s my Facebook profile.
When Facebook first started, it was a big-kid alternative to MySpace. It seemed a little austere — no personalized songs or backgrounds here. But users eased their lives onto it. Now, it’s hard to imagine a world without it, and I don’t say that as a nice transitory turn of phrase. Honestly, try to imagine a world without Facebook.
Facebook, and every other social media platform centered on the idea that you are an “individual”, serves the same basic function as a journal. These platforms are built around the urge to purge. In the process of adjusting ourselves in the virtual world, we end up exhibiting some kind of self-presentation and ultimately, preservation.
It becomes a bit like, “I post, therefore I am.” You have to think things up in order to share them. But if the stupidity that clutters any given news feed is an indication, the act of posting something doesn’t make it more important. So maybe everyone should just keep their journals to themselves, under a tiny lock and key. Or maybe I’m just being cynical.
When I look back at my Facebook timeline, I can trace friendships that I’ve had for years through the inside jokes and videos and bad photographs tacked onto my online profile. It’s all more detailed than my own memory or any scrapbook could ever be. Because while I have images and feelings and events in my mind, the internet has the dates and times and word choice. I hate to admit it, but Facebook might have done a better job documenting the last few years of my life than I have.
Much has been said about the self-centeredness of our generation, so I won’t harp on that any further. But I would argue that there’s more to the need to post and share and overshare than normally meets the culture critic’s eye.
Maybe it’s not such a bad thing to create a virtual journal through Facebook or a similar medium. There’s a lack of restraint and privacy that many — myself included — would like to see change. But, in essence, why is it so bad to want to document our lives? An Instagram post isn’t exactly the same as a diary entry, but they each allow a person to frame a particular moment. It’s only the element of publicness that makes one appear less earnest than the other.
I can’t remember the last time I had a photograph printed, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t captured images in the last year that I want to remember.
Digital ephemera isn’t cheaper than crinkly, shiny, noisy paper. It may seem that way, that what’s printed is more valuable than what’s posted on a screen, but that just doesn’t hold true anymore. Writing is an effort, no matter the medium. At this point, I’ve probably typed more words than I will ever write on pen and paper, and they’re not any flimsier than their handwritten counterparts.
It’s strange to think that we’ve entrusted so much of our self-documentation to a medium that’s younger than most of its users. Facebook isn’t a perfect journal, but it’s better than nothing.
Rachel del Valle is a College junior from Newark, N.J. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her @rachelsdelvalle. “Duly Noted” appears every Tuesday.Comments powered by Disqus
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