In age of Twitter, Facebook, smartphone apps, and even the NSA, very little seems private anymore. Many of us seem to want to let others know what we ate for lunch, who we recently befriended, and what video we starred on YouTube. Some people even confuse Twitter for a daily journal or diary.
The tradition of diary- and journal-keeping is centered around privacy. But is there a case for allowing others to read our private writing? Our journals or diaries may not be the historic coming of age tragedies of Anne Frank. They may not contain details of secret love affairs like Anaïs Nin. Still, they might be of the Go Ask Alice flavor, revealing much more about ourselves than we would like others to know while we’re alive. So, are there reasons for when our journals should not be kept private?
Thomas Mallon, author of A Book of One’s Own: People and Their Diaries, contends that if one keeps a diary long enough, it will eventually find an audience. We journal keepers, he says, want to cheat death by allowing our secret writings to keep us alive to those who read them.
I must confess, that in my older years, I’m wrestling with whether my box of journal notebooks should be buried before before I am. Do I delete my Day One digital journal entries before I die? This is a quandary for me and other journal writers. But I think I have a solution.
Enabling and Disabling Privacy Mode
Much of what we write in our dairies and journal are snapshots and portraits of who we are and what we experienced. What we write is a gift first to ourselves, like old photographs relished decades later when our thoughts, experiences, and confessions start to fade from memory. While there are parts of our journals and diaries that should never be revealed, there are recordings and pages of gratitude we may at least want our love ones to read after we’re gone.
I recently published through LuLu.com a personal book of over 450 pages of journals exported to PDF from my Day One app. I was very pleased by the printing of the book. The front cover is not fancy, but the printing format matches exactly the font style format and layout of the journal entries in the app.
The title of the book is simply, “Bakari’s Private Journals,” and on the back a message to potential readers: “This is my private journal. If you happen to find it, please respect my privacy and don’t read it.” Ah ah, how funny. How could my children ignore that message after I’m no longer alive? I know I couldn’t. Even if they don’t read the book from cover to cover, there are entries I would not want them to read. There are passages I wrote in a time anger and grief as a parent in which they are not the intended audience, though they were indeed subjects of some those journal entries.
On the other hand, there are plenty family-friendly entries in my journal book—such as what I wrote about birthdays, my personal bucket lists, favorite lists of music, copied-and-pasted text messages with my daughter when she was off to school on the other side of the country. There are beautiful unsent letters to my wife and children which they may never read if my journal is trashed before I die. (“I never tell you enough of how proud I am of you.”) And there are plenty of lessons in my journal entries my children could learn from, even after I’m gone.
But I have decided that my first published journal will not stay around for more than five years. Currently it can’t be easily found, but sooner or later I will throw it out and replace it with an edited version.
However, because I keep a digital journal, it’s easy for me to tag entries as “publishable”, then filter and export those entries to PDF for making my next journal book, which I can leave for my family to read if they choose to. Publishing my journals would be harder to do if the entries were handwritten. It would mean transcribing them all, which I would never get around to doing.
That’s the beauty of digital journaling. It’s safer and more feature rich than the pen and paper notebooks. And if we always backup and maintain a way to export our journal entries to another format, then we can decide what we want to keep private, and what we want to reveal to a wider audience.
Bakari Chavanu is a writer and blogger. He is currently working on a forthcoming book, Starting From Day One: Using Digital Journaling to Enhance Your Life, about digital journaling and the Day One app.