A wine-wise grandmother once told me that she would guard her diary with her life, and that if I were writing the right way, I would too. At sixteen and in love, I thought I knew what she meant. At twenty-three and curious, I am just beginning to understand.
Writing has logged the learning of humans for years, tracing our faults, triumphs, cyclical learning processes and triangular love stories across centuries. From pen to page, scroll to notebook, diary to novel, the written word has evolved alongside the grey scale of our collective conscious, leaving volumes of culture in its wake.
Evidence of our existence has launched from leather bindings into the current era of Google search histories. With it, our identities have emerged in sync with political and capitalist algorithms. Nearly all of the information we create and consume has been neatly funneled through a maze of data analysts to make us more likely to buy x, y, or z product, to read a, b, or c article and even to connect with Ashley, Brittany, or Courtney human.
This is a convenient structure for most capitalists, consumers, and basically anyone who enjoys the warm and encompassing world of modern technology. After all, there probably isn’t anyone watching the security tapes of us depositing checks at the bank or picking up our birth control at Walgreens or making a 2 am Uber stop at Whataburger. Odds are, there aren’t people spying on our laptop cameras or apple microphones or how often we stalk our exes on Instagram. Most likely, no one cares. Unless you have a criminal history, affinity for socialism, or even a few conversations about hiring an assassin under your belt, what does it really matter?
This very thinking is why it matters; and matters a whole lot. Don’t we deserve the freedom to think dangerous thoughts? And in a world where our actions and impulses are notated into a trackable, studiable database, isn’t thinking itself a dangerous act? If we don’t pursue practices that exercise our brains and hearts outside of the looming cloud, aren’t we all just lab rats with wallets?
While our overwhelming vulnerability on the grid may be virtually harmless, it’s also precariously compliant. As we blog away our hopes, dreams, sob stories and DIY secrets, we neglect to consider the growing data profile we build for ourselves, as well as its growing audience.
So how do we challenge a system that profits from understanding us? How do we privatize our existences beyond the reach of algorithms, search histories, and GPS locations? It’s with relished, nostalgic elation that I propose we all start keeping a diary.
In an age where most of our daily interactions can be traced to the swipe or pin of an iPhone, the idea that we possess private thoughts in any area more permanent than our own headspace is comforting if not down right liberating. It might be millennial romanticism at its finest, but the very thought that volumes of myself exist outside of a societal analog that may or may not be pumped into an algorithm and used to sell me rugs from Urban Outfitters, helps me sleep at night.
For years, psychologists have been raving that diary writing is good for us, with a long list of benefits: increasing our productivity, decreasing our anxiety, relieving our closest conspirators from our insistent venting. In a world that proves overwhelming more times than not, journaling has served for centuries as a reliant source of insight, relief, and personal freedom. Now its attributes are evolving. Now, we write to escape not just the world but also its watchful eyes. We journal not only to tell the stories we live out, but also to remove ourselves from an observant grid and figure out where we the hell stand in it all.
Following our hasty leap into the abyss of Google analytics and sponsored ads, comes the immediate desire to regress. It can be argued that backwards progress is not progress. It can be countered that progress isn’t so without freedom. If our words are outing our every desire, who do they truly belong to? If we aren’t thinking on our own territory, who are we really thinking for?
When I first wrote the words “dear diary,” my pink pony notebook was home to secrets as benign as my second grade crush and the boogers I wiped on Ms. VanZee’s coat room walls. Over time, the entries grew to be more robust, with greater depth in their swooning and loftier risks in their confessions. Soon, my words were forming as many observations as testimonies, until I wrote myself into as critical a thinker as I was a romantic storyteller. Soon, my diary became a safe haven for as many questions as there were statements. Soon, I was writing thoughts that were worth guarding.
Not all of our thoughts need to plot the fall of the patriarchy to be important, and not all of our diary entries need to overthrow big brother. Writing what we’re proud of on a thank you card is more powerful than a Facebook post. Our political ideals are more potent in places where they can’t be read by Cambridge Analytica and used to label our consumer profiles. Big or little, our thoughts are our biggest superpowers. And whether they’re trivial or triumphant, we should protect them. Wine-wise or otherwise, my grandmother was right. Romantic or regressive, diary writing is resistance.