I’m a little obsessive about data collection and retention. I’ve written a number of times about all the different backup systems I have in place to protect my data. And over the last few years the amount of data I’m collecting about myself (and family) has continued to grow. We’re taking exponentially more photos, posting many more status updates, and collecting real-time data about our sleep patterns, fitness activity, and location.
From the day I was born until around the time I entered high school, my mom kept a standard, wall calendar for myself and my sister. Every night (or nearly every night) after we went to bed, she’d pull out that year’s calendar and jot down a quick note on today’s date about what we had done that day. Since we’ve grown up, she’s passed on those calendars to us. For just about any day in my childhood, I can go up to my attic, find the right year, and tell you what my day was like. That’s an amazing ability. An amazing gift really. And earlier this year I realized that most basic human element of why was missing from all the data I’ve been collecting about myself. For nearly any day, I can look back and tell you where I was, what photos I took, and, potentially, what clever Twitter comment I made. But beyond that, I couldn’t tell you how I felt or why I did something. The human element was missing from all those updates.
So earlier this year I decided to change that and add yet another new metric into my increasingly always-on life: journaling.
Back in February, after hearing tons of glowing reviews, I bought a copy of Day One for my Mac and iPhone. I had never written in a journal or diary before, but I was intrigued by the possibility of having a written record to reference and look back on. So on February 11 I wrote my first journal entry. It wasn’t much. Just a quick paragraph summarizing the day – what time I woke up, what I had for lunch, where we went for dinner, and even the mundane details of what we bought at Target that evening. But the next day I wrote in it again. And again. Until it became a habit. I’d jot down a quick note throughout the day whenever it occurred to me to do so. But usually I spent five minutes before bed going over the day. No matter how boring or uneventful things may have seemed, I always made a point to write at least a few sentences. And now, nine months later, I just completed my three-hundredth entry. Two-hundred and fifty-three days in a row. Going all the way back to February, I can lookup and tell you exactly what I did that day, what I was feeling, and often times show you a photo to go along with it. It’s fundamentally changed the way I look back at past events. I’ve always had a good memory – but now I have a great memory. And with our first kid due soon, the idea of having a concrete record of him growing up is priceless. It’s my Mom’s calendars brought into a new century.
And none of this would be possible without a great app that makes journaling easy, is available everywhere, and stores my data in an open format that I’m confident is future proof and exportable to another system if the need ever arises. Day One fills that need perfectly.
A final, quick note. Early on in my journaling experiment I told a friend what I was doing. They asked why not just use Foursquare to keep a running tab of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I’ve never been big on the idea of Foursquare. Simply checking-in at places doesn’t appeal to me. Partly because I want that data to be private, and also because a check-in by itself never seemed valuable to me. I suppose it’s nice to know where I was, but without the added context of why I was there and what I thought about the experience, it just seemed lacking. Journaling lets me document my life in my own words rather than a list of cold I-was-here-at-this-time data points. And, very important to me, my data is under my control in an open format and available to store, reference, and mash-up however I see fit.