JESSICA SMIT

Monday 19 April

Dear Diary … Dear Facebook friends … Dear blog readers … Dear self.

The whole concept of keeping a diary has been revolutionised since the days of cute little pink books with flimsy metal locks. Or rather, it has digitalised.

The online version of a diary is a personal blog. Reporting blogs are journalistic, soapbox blogs are commentary but personal blogs are just that: personal. The blogger writes about events in their everyday life. One of the most popular personal bloggers, Heather Armstrong, who writes Dooce.com, jokingly wrote about her blogging, “Why, I just sit in my pyjamas all day long writing about my feelings!” On Dooce.com she writes about pregnancy, parenthood and depression – to paint a picture of her life for her readers (for a more tongue-in-cheek personal blog check out www.27bslash6.com).

So, you get blogs. And you get Facebook. Two different things, right? Except that the growing trend is for people to use their Facebook statuses as a makeshift diary. In fact, it’s become so popular that there is now a group on Facebook called “It’s a status, not your diary”. Third-year BA Languages student Carmen Beyers says, “It’s a bit emo. Most people that do it, do it to get attention. People don’t care if you got dumped.”

But Facebook does ask, “What’s on your mind?”, doesn’t it?

And according to Dr Matthew Lieberman, a psychologist at the University of California, writing about what’s on your mind contributes to your emotional well being. In an article on newspaper website Guardian.co.uk on February 15 last year called “Keeping a diary makes you happier” he says, “Writing seems to help the brain regulate emotion unintentionally.”

In a study, using brain scans from volunteers, it was found that writing about your feelings reduces activity in the amygdale, the part of the brain responsible for controlling the intensity of our emotions. Third-year BA Psychology student Nicola Klue agrees, “It’s therapeutic because I get to write down a lot of the thoughts and things on my mind, especially when I can’t sleep. It’s like being able to tell someone, without actually telling someone.”

There are also historical figures who indulged in the therapy of diary writing, whose diaries were later published. The private diaries of Virginia Woolf gives great insight into her thought processes as a writer and how she develops her characters. They also paint a picture of how severely depressed she became and how it affected her life. The diary of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam during World War II, shows us what she went through with her family while they were in hiding. She named her diary Kitty, and wrote as though she were writing to a friend. These diaries became popular to read because they offer an intimate view into a real life of a person living in a certain time.

Reading diaries became so popular that authors began writing fictional diaries of characters that their readers could relate to. The Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend: follows the development of a young, awkward boy as he navigates teenage-hood. Similar to that is the Spud series by John van de Ruit. And of course there is the Bridget Jones’s Diary series by Helen Fielding.

It is clear that these authors are writing for an audience. And blog writers are writing for their own audience. And Facebook statuses are read by Facebook friends. But to whom are all those who write a private diary actually writing? Perhaps some are writing to an imagined friend like Anne Frank’s “Kitty”. Perhaps others are writing with the hope that future generations will discover their diaries. Third-year radiography student Bianca Jansen van Rensburg says that she doesn’t write to anyone but herself, her conscience. She says, “I don’t begin by writing ‘Dear Diary’, I just write.” British sociologist, Beatrice Webb, says, “It would be curious to discover who it is to whom one writes in a diary. Possibly to some mysterious personification of one’s own identity.

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