On this day: Diary entries and transference

I’ve been thinking lately about certain kinds of diaries – both the paper kind, and their digital descendants*. More specifically, it’s the kind that enables, allows, or encourages reflection on previous entries.

* This is a reference to King’s College, London’s Centre For Life Writing Research, and their programme of research into diaries, another workshop of which is happening this Friday, and I’m looking forward to attending.

31Ez8kBVKvLOn the paper front, we have the five year diary. I’m not sure who first came up with the format, but it’s usually small, and each page has five blocks left blank for a new entry on each.

The idea is that you write your daily entry on each fresh page. A year later, you’re back on the same page, and you enter the corresponding day’s entry in the box below.

And so on.

You end up with a diary that holds five years of (quite brief) diary entries. More than any other diary format, you end up almost unable to ignore the musings of one or more years previously on the same day.

(These diaries are sometimes alternatively branded as ‘One Line a Day’ or, ‘A Thought a Day’.)

It’s a neat idea, and one I’ve often thought I’d like to try, not just for the novel format, but also for the enforced restriction on each entry’s length.

IMG_0329The feature of revealing previous entries one year on is also prevalent in the digital descendants of diaries that many people now use. These include Facebook’s ‘On This Day feature’, and the app Timehop, whose raison d’être is to show you stuff you posted online a year ago (and two, and three, and so on).

The feature is also present in the cross-platform diary app Journey, which can optionally present you with a random post from your archive from that day in the past.

Even more than the five year diary, these digital tools can utterly bombard you with such content. The paper-based five year diary (or the ‘line’, or ‘thought’ a day, remember), inherently limits the entry’s length. So one might end up with quite ‘light’ entries. They could also be very blunt – but they’d be brief, at least.

On the other hand, I know I personally stopped using both Facebook and Timehop’s ‘on this day’ features due to the sheer cognitive overload of what it dredges up.

This is, of course, my own fault.

If I posted thirty or so updates on a given day (and, maybe, possibly, have done so for ten years or more…), then to be confronted with 250+ individual posts every morning is simply too much to take in. Too much to even scroll through, let alone digest.

Further, what does all this mean? What meaning am I to read into this stuff, simply because it happened a year hence? Years are very arbitrary, of course. But there are bound to be some similarities: comments on seasonal weather conditions; the marking of annual festivals and anniversaries. Possibly, even, similar moods affected by those same seasons and festivals. But beyond that it is, essentially, random what will be shown.

The obvious point I’ve avoided so far is the possibility that one will be presented with an unpleasant memory. A hard break-up. A terrible episode in one’s life. The death of a loved one. Losing a job.

Of course, all these things may have their place in a person’s diary/life routine. They may be used to reflect and build upon. But it’s not for nothing that Facebook, for example, gives some fairly blunt tools to remove On This Day posts that involve a named person – an ex-partner, perhaps.

Equally, being confronted with relentlessly positive, cheery entries from years in the past may compound one’s feeling of their golden years slipping away, and add to a feeling of enveloping gloom.

Facebook and Timehop are bound to colour a reader’s thoughts with so much stuff being thrown back at them in one go. And so it follows that if, when you go to your diary app, or your five year journal, and you’re confronted with an old entry, surely your new entry will be influenced by that. Possibly that’s even the whole point of using such a tool, as a means of reflection and growth.

Whatever the cause or reason for embracing such a tool, I’ve been trying to come up with a name for the phenomenon by which one’s new or current diary entry is directly impacted by the content of a previous one. I alighted on the term ‘transference’, simply because it popped up in a recent random Reddit post about whether psychologists, in turn, need psychologists to deal with all the stuff they hear. Looking up what transference means, I’m not sure it’s quite the right phrase. But it’s close.