It’s been a while. With tablets and smart phones putting a world of information at our fingertips and bringing the tide of social media to our pockets and purses, people just aren’t putting pen to paper as much these days. Journals once kept our deepest desires and most salacious secrets, but lately they’ve been tossed aside, left to gather dust in lieu of hand-held touch screens and instant messages. With more than 1 billion people on Facebook and 500 million-plus on Twitter, people across the world are still writing their own stories, but what is lost?
Today, we chronicle our days rapid-fire—often in bursts of 140 characters or less—and entries are intended for many eyes, friends, even complete strangers. There just isn’t time (or space) for personal introspection.
“Being online prompts a very different state of mind, I think, than being alone with one’s diary,” says Dr. Simon Gottschalk, a professor of sociology at UNLV. “So being online promotes a different kind of writing; it promotes a different kind of thinking; it promotes a different kind of reflection. The medium itself is already affecting the content and the style.”
Don’t be mad at technology, though, Diary. In the Internet’s earlier days, people wrote blogs, essentially online journals, and blogging communities grew around websites that made it so easy to pour out your thoughts. I deserted my first journal for one of those sites, Xanga, which even let me set certain posts private. That definitely trumps your brethren’s dinky locks.
Myspace started the trend of baiting likes and comments. Then came Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and everything else; people started posting quick, to-the-point updates jotted in seconds without much thought. While the blank pages of a diary offer endless space for careful contemplation, status updates are now composed in tiny boxes, usually on tiny screens that beep and chirp our friends’ approval.
“We are inundated with a constant flow of information. Everybody has a megaphone. … There are too many solicitations, too many requests for attention,” says Gottschalk. “The key today is, can you say what you need to say in the briefest space possible? Because if it gets too long, you’re being skipped.”
Twitter’s 140-character-or-less restriction is a “great example” of how the medium forces one to think and write in a particular way, Gottschalk adds. “And once we get used to tweeting with 140 characters, that logic of having to express oneself very, very quickly and in a very short amount of time then migrates into other forms of communication.”
Gottschalk says social media’s fast pace and large communities are transforming people’s attention and patience—two things essential to the keeping of a diary.
“A really thought-out answer requires time, of course. In order for you to write something intelligent, without redundancy, something powerful, it takes a lot of time.
“Writing is an art, and it takes time to master; it takes time to do well. ... There’s no way to develop that art if we’re constantly under the gun.”
So, Diary, I guess we’ve just lost the patience for you. But maybe that’s not all. Maybe we’ve lost not only our will to truly reflect, but also the sanctuary for our secrets.