dear diary: my history of journal keeping

Will Diaries Be Published in 2050? was the NYT’s Room for Debate topic recently. Part of the debate wondered whether online social platforms (which I wanna pluralise as platfa) were displacing diary-/journal-writing without being an adequate substitute. I found it interesting that some discussants called Facebook the death of blogs. I had a blog before I had a Facebook account, sure, but I can’t imagine the gap between when blogs really caught on and when Facebook really caught on to be more than 4 years, in the early 2000s.

It got me thinking about my on-again, off-again affair with writing down my life. I am mildly egocentric and rabidly analytical, and coupled with a lifelong love of the written word keeping a diary is second nature to me. Or should be, anyway. 

It all started in summer school after Grade 2. I was enrolled in an indescribably amazing summer program about “dreams”. The entire premise of the program was to explore our (nighttime) dreams by writing them down in a journal. Friggin amazing. I was seven years old, had a wild imagination, had a dream-life infinitely more colourful and filled with adventure and strangeness than real life.

When the internet was made available to the masses – maybe 1998 –  I jumped right in and created my first – and, to date, only – website website, called Fluoride OJ (long story), using Netscape Communicator. I doubt it was about my boring life as a ten-year-old but probably included some of my interests. Recall that at this time I wasn’t even really self-aware yet; I had little if any consciousness of my place and placing in the environment around me. That is, I was not yet aware that I experienced the world as the prime subject, the protagonist. Consciousness, which Philip Pullman masterfully illustrates with Dust and Daemons in the fantastical and most fantastic trilogy His Dark Materials (god I want to read them again! Where are those books…).

It wasn’t until moving back to Hong Kong in 2000, when I was 12, that I started writing my thoughts and life down in a diary. Life at that point consisted solely of school and home, so entries were typically either about parents or school social hierarchies. The two predominant emotions were anger and insecurity. There was lots of screaming and a newfound delight in colourful language is apparent.

Then ‘everything’ changed in spring 2003: I caved and got a Xanga account like everyone else. I poured out my soul on that platform, mainly in the form of private posts. Although I was my only reader the entries are clearly written for an audience, either because I wanted someone else to read them due to a deep yearning to be understood or because I wasn’t really able to engage in, grasp and reflect on my experiences in the first person. My Xanga then took a new lease on life when I changed high schools. I started using it to relate my experiences at my new school – all of which were novel and, in my opinion, blogworthy – to my friends at the old school.

Before Facebook there was Xanga. Many classmates had an account and almost all at lease perused others’ blogs. It was an online mass communications tool in that you broadcast something to the world, and the world can read and comment, or not. You could connect with other Xanga via subscription. You could even add a chat box in the sidebar. You could post text or photos (I don’t think videos and youtube really existed back in 2003…) and you could post about anything. Perhaps the main difference is that back then we were too young (14, 15 years old) to understand how to fully utilise it as a tool to our benefits. Most of us by now (24, 25 years old) should understand that when we use Facebook we are trying to control the way others see us.

When university started in fall 2006 I continued to use Xanga for both private and public posts until I finally outgrew it and moved on to Livejournal. By then, 2008, Facebook was up and chugging along quite happily, but I still relied on blogging as a main form of diary-keeping. This is really evident in the spring/summer of 2008, when I went on a wild rollercoaster of emotions driven by the hunt for my first real job and then my actual first real jobs.

Tagging was a new feature for me. Xanga didn’t have tags, did it? I enjoyed that a lot, being able to categorise my thoughts under handy labels and later having easy access to the archives. A lot of other friends had switched to Livejournal before me – Willbe, Suzanne, Debbie, Melanie – though, unlike them, I had no real desire to connect with the Livejournal communities.

And that’s still how I feel about blogging today: I think of my blog as a place of reflection and it is more important that I write than that someone else reads. An utter lack of effort on my part in reaching out to the “blogosphere” is obvious in my 2-visits-per-day traffic stats. But it’s really not so important to me right now. Blogging for work is making me reconsider the advantages of blogging with a purpose and attracting a readership, but at this stage – essentially, before my thesis is done! – I don’t care enough to develop a personal blogging strategy. Maybe next year, especially when/if I get more involved in electoral reform campaigning…

In April 2011 I had heard and seen a bit of WordPress and was eager to try it out myself. So I got a WordPress account and used it parallel to Livejournal with the aim of recording progress on bike repairs I was making at the time. The repairs went nowhere and the blog followed! It lay pretty fallow for a few months until I decided, for reasons I can’t recall, to make the permanent switch from Livejournal to WordPress.

That brings us to the present. It’s been a solid year at WordPress and my blog is still directionless. For a while I wrote the general life reflections stuff but was (and still am a little) put off by the nagging feeling that these entries should be quality entries. I’ve mainly written about food, Saturday adventures around the city, random musings and politics. While the entries are a little more disciplined than previously, none has even come close to the amount of research and time I put into work blog posts (for obvious reasons). Right now I’m in the phase of opining about current events and other political issues. As there is little to no discussion in the comments section, it feels like reigning my own empire in that I can say whatever I want, except that there is absolutely no one there to take heed!

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