Handwritten diaries may feel old fashioned, but they offer insights that digital diaries just can’t match

The first time I taught a college course called “The London Diary” for young Americans studying abroad back in 2002, each student ended up with a tangible book of memories, a handwritten record of their semester in London. But when I taught the course 15 years later, the first question my students asked was whether they could keep their journals online. The question brought home to me how the image of a diary has shifted from words scribbled in a blank book to images and digital text on a screen.

Why not go digital?

Even while journaling apps like Penzu and Diaro become more widely available, estimates and surveys suggest that a sizable number of the world’s diary keepers still keep handwritten diaries.

Fans of digital diaries grant them an edge in convenience, portability, searchability and password protection. Jonathan, one of my 2018 students, described in an essay for class how digital diarists can upload entries to multiple platforms, keeping some portions offline or restricted to a select audience while other parts go completely public. It’s harder to control distribution, encrypt entries or build an index with a journal kept on paper.

I already expected my students to use electronic devices to read course materials, to communicate with me and with their families back home, to write essays for class, and to navigate London. Why not let them keep digital diaries, too?

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