One of my most treasured possessions is a binder that my grandmother put together chronicling the stories of my forebears from her grandparents forward.
Part of the introduction reads:
"In an earlier era, before the days of the ubiquitous television and radio, men and women set down in letters, essays, and diaries an account of their lives and the times through which they were living. This literature has proved invaluable for historians, playwrights, and for us, their descendants. We should do no less for our era."
With this imperative as part of my DNA and upbringing, it's perhaps no surprise that I chose to make my own blog a personal journal.
I love to read different people's personal blogs (as evidenced by the 239 feeds in my "Personal Blogs" folder in Google Reader), and I think that the proliferation of electronic journaling is going to be a bonanza for future historians.
I'm always fascinated by glimpses of other people's lives -- particularly from earlier generations -- and I'm obviously not the only one. Just last week, the blog Cynical C had a contest where the prize was a used diary from 1940. The page for Sunday, September 22, 1940 offered this striking farm vignette, "A dog broke into an outdoor house and killed 17 pullets this a.m. about 5 o'clock and Robert shot the dog. No tag on collar."
You might be familiar with the Twitter account, @Genny_Spencer, made up of diary entries from the same era. David Griner uses the Twitter account to share his great-aunt's line-a-day diary from 1937-1941, one day at a time.
He comments that some people might find the posts about everyday life on the farm to be rather dry, but I love the way they paint a sparse but fascinating picture of what that life was really like.
No discussion of personal journals is complete without a mention of Anne Frank. It's hard not to wonder if things might have turned out differently if she'd been blogging her story rather than recording it in a diary. When the world is reading, can that change things?
I fear the answer is "probably not." The now-defunct Baghdad Burning blog was written by a young Iraqi woman to document her wartime experiences from 2003-2008. It caught the attention of many people in the U.S. at the time, but she and her family still ended up having to flee to Syria in 2008... and as we're painfully aware, the war continues today.
I believe the clearest value in personal journaling lies in the pictures it draws of the lifestyles of the writers. What will future historians think of the warts-and-all parent blogs that detail the struggles and joys of raising children in our times? How will they interpret the stark contrasts in point of view between left- and right-leaning personal bloggers? What will they take away from our casual recounting of every goal, dream, want, need and random idea?
I imagine that gleaning insights from the wealth of personal blogging and Twitter feeds will someday be a distinct academic discipline. Wouldn't it be interesting to make that your life's work? Or do you prefer to be the one writing the material that they'll be perusing?
Photo Credit: Barnaby Dorfman.
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