With the advent of widespread Internet access, even diaries are going digital.
by Lorelei Laird
Your secret loves and hates. Your tearful confessions. Your emotional epiphanies. A diary can be many things, but almost never is it something that's meant to be read by the entire world. Yet, with the recent appearance of cheap, easy access space on the World Wide Web, a growing minority of internet users is laying its lives and loves out for anyone with a web browser to see. Such a paradox might seem like an unlikely basis for a new trend in web browsing, but in the last few years, the Internet has seen a veritable explosion of these "public" diarists.
But why would anyone want to keep his or her private diary on the Internet? The answers are as diverse as the diarists themselves. A survey of about fifty diarists conducted by The Mining Company, a company devoted to gathering statistics and information about all aspects of the Web, reveals that fully 50 percent are online because they want to "hone their writing skills." Indeed, many online journalers consider themselves writers rather than mere keepers of diaries; there are many webrings devoted to journals with quality writing, and quality of writing is a common reason given for the popularity of certain journals. "The quality of writing is paramount," says Garland. "It must come from the heart and inspire the mind." Many diarists also report starting their online diaries to refine their own writing. "Online journals provide a kind of publishing that has been unheard of until now," says Abbie (Mindless Prattle). "I am self-publishing my own work, in my own way, with my own style. I don't submit it for rejection. No editor or publisher can hack it all to hell in the name of marketing. I have complete and total control over all my work, and anyone with access to the Internet can view it." Greg Bueno of Book of Days, a newspaper editor, keeps his journal as a sort of antidote to writers block. "I've tried many times in the past to keep a journal on paper. The idea has always held some appeal to me, but when it came to actually doing it, I'd end up with a notebook with two entries and a lot of blank pages." In addition to his journal, Bueno keeps a website collecting his fictional writing (work in progress). "When I'm taking a break from the fiction, I'll write [in Book of Days] about writing. So in a way, it's a journal of the creative process."
However, by far the most popular reason given in the Mining Company survey for keeping an online journal was "I just liked the web and it seemed natural to me." MiningCos Linda Roeder, a "guide" to personal web pages, speculates that online diarists familiarity and comfort with the internet is part of what inspires them to put their diaries online. "The findings [that the 20-29 age group makes up 63 percent of all online journals] dont surprise me, given that Web demographics overall favor the twentysomething age group," she says. "The Web is a powerfully attractive platform - for some it's almost a belief system These are people who have met their media." Taken as such, the explosion in online diaries can perhaps be seen as another symptom of our societys growing involvement with the Internet. "The diarists themselves, simply by continuing to write," says Roeder, "are putting their own indelible stamp on the Web, and perhaps on our eras social history as well."
The future may well look at the phenomenon of online journals as a flash in the pan, an anomalous expression of the late twentieth centurys enthusiasm for all things technological. Despite its relatively recent beginning, there are signs that the trend is already slowing down, with many of the communitys pioneering journals on hiatus or gone for good. Some cite personal problems with offline relationships that were documented online, others dissatisfaction with how their work was being received. "Some [in the online journaling community] accepted me on my own merits, but others looked for any opportunity to hammer me down and in the end I just vacated the entire journal community," says Garland. "Not just for sake of my own sanity or to figure out my real life... The fact that only one of the first three [journals] I encountered still exists in its original form is evidence of the uncertain nature and future of online journals as a whole. It's very precarious territory for a reader to explore, and even more dangerous for anyone who really gets into writing one." However, for every veteran journal-keeper who hangs up her keyboard, there are three or four more waiting to take her place, as the burgeoning Diary Registry and journal-related webrings show. And with the phenomenons ease of access (anyone with an Internet connection can publish), its spread to teenagers, who have much more time on their hands and things to "work out," and its growing and fiercely supportive community, online journaling is unlikely to die out anytime soon. Says Abbie, "I feel that this is a wonderful new arena of the arts that we've never had the means to do before now. I am proud to be a part of it."
Lorelei Laird resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Although she does not offer a web diary to the world at large, she gets great pleasure out of following the adventures of total strangers online.