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Has the practice of keeping a diary been written off?

BySibylla Archdale Kalid

Oct 20, 2015

It seems like no one has time for diary writing anymore. With social media sites and online blogs, we are becoming ever more accustomed to constant updates on our own and everyone else’s lives, so much so that sharing your most intimate thoughts online is turning into a highly normalised practice.
However, sharing personal information online breeds its own set of problems. A recent study discussing how employers use sites such as Facebook in order to vet potential employees indicated that this trend was becoming problematic for job seekers since some of them used online pages essentially “as personal diary pages.” If keeping a sort of diary is what you are after, then why do it online and in such a public fashion given the potential disadvantages? Do blogs and social media sites offers something more than a simple written diary can?
Blogs are incredibly popular at the moment. This year Tumblr alone registered around 152 million users and it is just one of the many places treated by some users as an extended published diary. Blogger Diana M. Rabb of Huffington Post even calls the practice of blogging “a public and even communal forum of the diary or journal”. In this respect, then, the online blog could be said to fulfil the need that writing a diary once did, whilst in addition creating a public platform for your ideas, right? Well, no, it isn’t as simple as that. As Rabb points out, blogging still requires a specific theme or focus since it is written with an audience in mind. Indeed, many guides to blogging stress the importance of finding your niche topic and of anticipating competition, certainly not things that you would think you need to consider when writing a personal diary!
Blogging, however, has its own advantages. Editing issues aside, the thrill of your personal reflections receiving almost instant acclaim from online followers is a great boost. Undoubtedly, there is also a real therapeutic aspect to simply writing. Even as early as 1982, an article in the British Medical Journal detailed the treatment of some minor psychotic disorders which involved patients keeping diaries between therapy sessions so as to give them some sense of “mastery” over their treatment.
Unlike online posting, though, as well as keeping personal control, retaining privacy over what is written was cited as an essential part of this diary-keeping process for patients. The opportunity to control what you share of your personal thoughts appears to be key to understanding the original drive behind diary keeping, whether for personal reasons or with the intention to share. A researcher at Kings College London, for instance, told The Guardian that in order to cope with traumatic experiences in her life she wrote an autobiography, stating “I couldn’t trust a therapist the way I could a piece of paper. Paper’s always there to reread or rewrite. Once you’ve said something you can’t unsay it, but with a page of writing you can. You don’t ever have to share it.”
Keeping a diary involves a curious mixture of spontaneity coupled with deep personal reflection. Clearly, though, the act of writing and reflecting on personal experiences is still as popular as ever and highly effective in terms of helping people cope with daily stresses. We all have different notions of privacy and we differ in relation to how much we are willing to share of our personal lives. Social media sites and online blogs, which allow speedier access to these personal details and the opportunity to divulge our own to a wider audience, for all their advantages, present their own particular problems. However, whatever we may think collectively of the merits of diary writing, in the end it all comes down to the individual’s personal opinion on the matter, and a personal opinion is really what keeping a diary is all about.

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