Paper Endures: Reasons to Keep Writing on Paper

Millennials start the year with paper diaries and notebooks

This article from last year suggests that people still want physical paper journals. Surprisingly, even many Millennials prefer to keep a pen and paper handy along with the digital tools they carry. It’s an interesting read and features fascinating excerpts from the personal journals of four young creatives.

I recently helped to empty my mother’s home of all contents before it went on the market. This was our family’s home since 1958. My five siblings and I lived there until we went to our respective lives. My Mom was 96 years old. Her mother moved in with us in 1977 with all her worldly belongings and stayed until her death. We kids played with toys, wore clothes my mother sewed, saved old Halloween costumes, and collected school papers and scrapbooks. My parents had brought with them all the memories and memorabilia they had into this house.

All this to say: the house was full of stuff. Everyone who lived there left things behind–stuff they put down one day and never picked up again, school papers and photos they once thought should be saved, but didn’t take with them. Things once precious or of practical necessity from at least three generations were deposited in that house.

Poring over the contents spanning over 100 years is a perspective changer. Most items take on a different aspect than they had before.

Things that look like they were left in the memory heap accidentally become very precious. Candid pictures that seemed imperfect speak volumes about your family’s daily life. Unimportant financial records shed understanding on the context of your parents’ lives from decades ago. We piece together our past mostly with cast-off physical afterthoughts.

Old photos, letters, magazines, ads, appliance manuals, cookbooks, school records, old bills, handwritten notes. All physical, tangible evidence of thoughts and actions from the past. I wanted to save it all.

But what evidence will we leave for the future?

What if my mother’s high school pictures had been on her phone? What if the love letters which passed between my mom and dad while he was stationed in Panama in World War II had been digital? What if all the photos of my grandparents were stored in a cloud or by a relatively transient internet web service?

I submit to you that we would have no memories to keep.Without evidence, the past would be forgotten in the past, and would die with each of us.

I have books which my grandmother read when she was a kid, her name written on the front page. I have my kindergarten report card. Precious pictures from everyday life when my siblings and I were kids. I have a little book that my Dad used to record payments to the obstetrician for services rendered related to my birth. I found a book of photos of my mom and her boyfriend before my Dad came on the scene. Pictures of my Dad’s mom (who died in her nineties in the late 70’s) on her front porch, aged ten, holding a doll. My great-grandmother’s marriage certificate. A German World War I leaflet–English on one side, French on the other–dropped on my mother’s father, urging the allies to give up. A note my Dad saved, which I wrote at the age of nine and left on the bathroom mirror, inconsequential then, precious now.

Call me backward but I have more confidence in a physical record than in digital data-storage to preserve our memories and thoughts into the long-term future.

Case in point: my laptop just made me update something or other and about 70% of my pictures are randomly missing. I know they must be in the darn box somewhere but will I find them? Experience tells me: maybe. They are pictures I need for this business right here, Maddy Tree Books. Another case in point: iTunes made me update and my entire music library never existed. You know you have similar tales.

What of the communication between my kids and I? Text replaces note-writing and I am forced to delete phone texts to my kids to make room for more. What will we recall about our relationships at this time in our lives without written evidence?

Do my thoughts matter? Might they be relevant to me in a few years? Or to my children after I’m gone? How many of us are recording our thoughts today?

My remedy is, of course, is to hold on to tangible memories. Keep pictures, even if digital, on something that you can physically hold in your hand. Especially the imperfect candids. Resist the urge to trash the past by throwing away paper photos.

Keep paper records of your life. You have no idea now what will matter in years to come. Your least consequential clerical item may be critically informative to your grandchildren. A little cast-off note on a mirror may recall affection and trigger mental home movies after someone is long gone.

Keep a paper journal and record your thoughts. It is tragic how much we forget. Written thoughts over time will preserve a comprehensive narrative of a period of your internal life.

And isn’t the act of confiding in a physical journal vastly different than sending one’s thoughts out on the internet? Writing itself is slower and more deliberate. The perspective is long-term. What I have to say is more considered, more intimate. It’s more honest. And does not the future deserve an honest account from us?

I am confident to entrust my memories to paper.




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