30/12/2013 11:36 GMT | Updated 27/02/2014 05:59 GMT

Death of the Diary ?


It's been an odd year. For the first time ever, whenever I've felt the need to record something important, I haven't written it on paper but I've put it on Facebook. Sometimes Twitter. Occasionally Instagram.

As we welcome a new year, I'd usually be thinking about indulging in a beautiful leather-bound diary for the coming months but this year I'm wondering how to get the most battery power out of my various devices so I can carry on with those tweets and updates.

It raises the question, are we leaving behind historic methods of recording events and our honest, personal reactions to them? Is this signalling the death of the diary?

Diary usage is of course pretty much twofold. It's a way to keep track of all the appointments and dates we can't forget in our lives but there is the deeper, much more intimate and personal side too. A place to discuss the true feelings and emotions that we may not admit to even our closest friends and family. A place to work through problems; a trusted confidant; a place for absolute honesty.

"I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train" said Oscar Wilde. It's undoubtedly true that literature would be much the poorer without the contribution of the diary form and our social knowledge would be patchy at best. No Samuel Pepys, no Anne Frank. Dare I say it, (ahem), no Bridget Jones.

A UCLA study from 2009 found that writing a journal seemed to help regulate our emotional mix by working out negative feelings in writing and tricking the brain into feeling more positive. So it seems the urge to commit to the written word has a psychological benefit. What was called at the time the 'Bridget Jones effect'.

Yet now, as it approaches its 10-year anniversary, we see that over 835 million people worldwide are on Facebook and this has gone hand in hand with a trend to reveal thoughts and feelings much more openly, albeit within a curated context. It's no longer good enough to write down the humdrum and the banal, however important to the documenting of personal or public history that might be. Now we see the development of tailored public personas to make our lives seem so much more interesting than they really are.

Consumer insight from trend analysts Future Foundation shows that we are increasingly using social media not only to record the milestones in our lives or to note down that funny thing your 3-year old said at breakfast but to showcase the very best of ourselves.

Their studies show a strong element of creating an enviable public persona with 34% of social networkers saying they strongly feel the need to be appreciated by others, 60% revealing they like it when their posts are acknowledged by others and 60% stating that they prefer looking at other people's posts to posting their own (are they surreptitiously checking out the competition in the lifestyle stakes?).

Above all it seems that social networkers show high levels of interest in anything that can add excitement and glitz to their lives in a way that can be paraded to and recognised by others.

Perhaps there is another nail in the coffin for the meticulous ritual of traditional diary-keeping. For the younger generation, that doesn't remember a non-digital world, it seems that Twitter is increasingly becoming the social network of choice. For example, research from comScore this month shows that Twitter's US-based audience skews young, more so than Facebook. There's not much space for emotional expansion in 140 characters.

So, I find myself wondering whether, as time goes by, it will get increasingly hard to manage our social media personas as they begin to gain ever more prominence. Could we even see the rise of services to manage these profiles? Companies who act as keepers of our 'second selves'?

Or, perhaps we'll see a backlash and a return to the cherished delight of sharing our frank and individual musings, regardless of external influences, with something old-fashioned called pen and paper.......

(Image credit - Kevin Spencer)