Will Our Memories Disappear When Technology Changes? The Virtues of Pen and Paper

Jun 01, 2010 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

These days, it seems that everyone knows everything about us. Through Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, your friends and co-workers can learn about all the details of your life--your emotions, your day-to-day experiences, and your thoughts and opinions. But what will your grandchildren know about your life? What will you have to pass on to them, to give them insight into your family, your experiences, and your life journey? When you are older, what will you have to remind yourself of your youth--when the text messages and emails have long been deleted and your photo CDs can no longer be opened?

Because we are sharing so much of out lives digitally all of the time, we may not realize that we really aren't "capturing" any of it for the future. We have all of our photos on our computers and share our thoughts on our blogs and Facebook, but unless you are one of the few people who actually print these out, they will all disappear when the technology changes. And it will. Maybe not in the next few years, but 50 years from now the technology will all be completely different. Even in the years since I've graduated from college, I can't access any of my college papers that I kept on floppy disks. Technology changes, and along with it go all of your memories. This is why it is important to record your memories the old-fashioned way--with pen on paper.

While the new technology is great for connecting and sharing, it can't replace writing in a journal. Take time to write in a real journal on real paper, especially about the events that are milestones in your life: your wedding day, your pregnancy, your travels, and family reunions. These are the experiences that give life meaning and you will want to pass them on to your children. Even the most minor details of your life will be interesting to future generations. In our family we have our great-grandfather's journal. He wrote about his move from Norway to a sod house in South Dakota and about daily life at the mercantile he owned. At the time, this was a simple diary. Now it is a treasured keepsake for the family. We can all read about the joys and struggles he faced as he tried to make his way in a new country. We can learn about his perseverance and dedicated spirit, and also get a view of life during the Depression. In time, a simple journal can become a family heirloom with insight into a person, a family, and an era.

A journal is not just important for future generations to learn about you, but it is also a useful tool for you to learn about yourself. Through its pages you can look back on different stages of your life and see yourself grow. As you capture experiences in a journal you can see how your personality evolves and get a big-picture view of your life. And it can be so fun to re-read about the good times you've had, your time spent traveling, and even the funny comments that made you laugh and laugh. When I look back over my journals from college, I can see how much I've learned and changed. I also smile at the great times I had back then. I had forgotten all about the day playing mud football in the rain, until I pulled out my journal and re-lived the experience--the jokes, the friends, and the mud-splattered mess. When you look back at your journal and re-read your words, a flood of memories will come back to you and you can travel back in time for a bit.

Some people don't write in journals because they think it is a big commitment. They think they'll have to do it every day or write something thoughtful and deep. But that is not the case. Even a short entry, every once in a while, is enough to give a view of your life or trigger a memory. Keeping a journal is as easy as this: Keep a blank journal on your desk or bedside table. When you have an experience that moves you, makes you laugh, or gives you an insight, jot it down in your blank book. All you need is the date, maybe a short title for the entry, and a few short sentences.

An example from my journal is:

May 9, 2004: Grandma Eva's Advice

I called Grandma today and told her I was pregnant. Her advice: "Be happy with whatever your child is like. Every single person has something amazing to offer the world." I told her the baby was due in December and she said "Have it sooner! I won't live that long!" We had a good laugh together.

Write in a journal every so often and you'll be creating a treasured memento for yourself and your family. A small time investment now will pay off big in the future, as you will have a way to remember the meaningful moments of your life. It will also be an invaluable way to share your life experiences and wisdom with your children and grandchildren. A Facebook "status update" is for the moment, but a journal is for forever.