Data is the new Journal. (part 1)

I don’t have much room for storage in the small bungalow apartment where I live. I like to tell people that I adhere strictly to a “one in, one out” policy. When something new comes in, something old must go out. This helps to reduces clutter and the accumulation of “things.”

One mainstay that continues to grow is a small collection of boxes. They’re called “memory boxes” as loosely defined by my cryptic writing penned with a black Sharpie.

One is stuffed with ticket stubs, conference badges, matchbooks, and other random mementos. Another is filled with dog-eared journals. It’s not that I have no memory (this is debatable), but having these boxes of information helps to recall random events upon which nothing interesting happened “at the time.”

The journals are tattered and full, evidence of everyday journeys jotting down random notes during pause. They contain to-do lists, random thoughts, poetry, un-sent “love” letters, and general wordplay at-large. There’s a specific notebook I wrote in every day for about two years in high school. I’ve kept it securely in each apartment I’ve had during the last decade.

It’s funny because reading that particular journal now, I wrote about predictable teenage dilemmas like dating and school. I dutifully noted milestone events – like graduating from college – which makes me wonder why I wanted to keep it hidden in the first place.

I’ve written juicier stuff in a moleskin that sat next to the subject as he unknowingly rode in my car.

Point is, these boxes of artifacts and journals, although surface level at times, are rewarding to read now. Looking back, I wish I would’ve documented more.

Many of these physical tombs have since been superceded by the digital equivalent of the lesser friendly one and zero. The digital medium cancels out the physical product we’ve come to know and love under the genre of “things” and/or “stuff.” Digital documentation makes slightly more anonymous my own personal story, style as a writer, and self-described position as social misanthrope.

I imagine how it would have came across if it were possible to capture those same stories online back then. Would I have captured more detail? Would I have captured less? Would my writing appear authentic, or would it come across as impersonal because I was using software, an app, or had the option to make it available for all to see?

On my birthday last year, I happened to check Facebook only to notice a little box on the homepage where ads are typically placed. It read that on my birthday, two years ago, I ran 2.3 miles. Did I? Come to think of it, I did! I went home early from work and went on a run before going out to dinner with family.

The run was logged by Nike run, which was connected to Facebook. I wouldn’t have remembered what I did that day without the help of this little reminder.

If sites and services can tap into the information we enable it with, they should in turn deliver back useful patterns and information about ourselves we weren’t previously aware of. This creates a data journal of its own.

When everything else is going digital it only seems natural to document our lives in a way that makes technology work for us. Tools make it easy to document everything from how we slept last night to where we’ve been.

So, if our information is being collected to sell to others, where’s the payoff? There should be long-term personal gain from the use of it. At the very least, we should have increased control over where it travels to.

An app called Path is a step between Facebook and Twitter. It’s more exclusive than Facebook, and doesn’t speak to everyone like Twitter does.

The app has a limit to the amount of friends you can have. Specifically, it’s set at 140.
It allows you to connect with loved ones – people you actually know in the real world.

From their website:

“Path was designed with the people you love, your close friends and family, in mind. Share in a trusted, intimate, environment like the dinner table at home.”

I experimented with posting a few personal thoughts and opinions to Path – things I would never trust going to Facebook or Twitter or where everyone else is.

I felt that I was confiding in folks I already know, and trust, and don’t see very often. I also found that people were willing to express heartfelt thoughts and emotions back.

Journaling takes on many forms. The part where we monitor little things like where we were, what we were listening to and how we were feeling seem ok to share and syndicate to our social networks.

But deeper insights are long-form and will always be best applicable to the old-fashioned paper and pen. Don’t get me wrong, it can still be digital – I appreciate bamboo products just as much as the next nerd (maybe more), but that kind of stuff doesn’t need to go public. It’s more personal than anything else – critical to one’s personal expression, growth, and discovery for later on.

Continue to Part 2

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