Please Print (A Journaling Rant)

In these historic times, many people have turned to journalling as a way of keeping account for the next generation. So when the grandkids ask what it was like to live through the 2020 Pandemic, you’ll be able grab your pipe, sit them on your lap, and regale them with yarns spun from your own written words.

I see so many that I know discussing how important their digital journalling app of choice has become for this purpose and… my heart sinks. I feel so sad for them. The reason….

None of these apps will be around.

Likely not in 10 years. Certainly not in 20 or 30 or 50.

Take it from a 52 year old who has lost more writing in his 30 years of computing than he has been able to save. The reason? They are on ZIP Disks in my basement using Clarisworks or it was into a BBS system that died silently or they are on a Colorado 250MB Tape Backup of my first computer (A home-brew 486/50 PC) or…

Therefore, let me repeat: THAT APP WILL NOT EXIST NOR WILL ANYTHING YOU TYPE INTO IT.

The history of computing has copious evidence to back me up on that bold statement. The evidence shows that Day One (who I will note bills themselves as a “journal for life”) will likely be long gone in 20 years (Go ahead and bookmark this post and come see me then if I’m wrong). Maybe when the company dies they’ll give you an exit plan to save your work or maybe they won’t. Even if you still have the files twenty years from now you won’t have a working app to open them with. Like those ZIP Disks in my basement, your best hope will be to have some old computers with the right app to be able to open them up and print them out.

Yes. Print. On paper. Why? Because, unlike your app, paper has a proven track record for lasting thousands of years if the conditions are right.

I still have the first piece of writing I ever published as a second grader in my elementary school newsletter because my Mom saved her mimeographed copy of it and gave it to me a few years ago. And, you know what? Unlike any of the digital formats I mentioned, I’ll be able to show it to my grandkids and they’ll be able to show it to theirs.

So please, I implore you, if you insist on journalling using any digital tool, please also regularly print what you are writing. Stick it somewhere cool and dry. Even print a couple of copies and put one somewhere offsite for extra security. If you really want to preserve this important history, and you really care about it, you’ll print it.

Or, you could save yourself a lot of trouble and just simply get a good notebook and write by hand. Use good paper. Use good ink. It’ll last for generations. The Library of Congress has a good guide on paper preservation worth checking out. But, even with none of those things, most paper should last hundreds of years if undisturbed.