There’s no doubt that we’re living through an historic moment – for centuries to come, the COVID-19 pandemic will be studied and remembered for its global significance.
And as much as 2020 has sucked so far, it is kind of cool to know that we are some of the only people who will be able to tell the story in our own words. And, as it turns out, we’re not the only ones thinking this.
Dr Peta Murray – a Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at RMIT University – says diary-keeping is having a resurgence, and COVID is to thank.
“We keep hearing these are unprecedented times but it’s largely because none of us on this earth today have a true understanding of what it’s like to live through a pandemic,” she says. “And why would we? We have already seen how vastly different the experience is depending on where one lives and their personal circumstances.”
According to Peta, perspective is key to learning more about history-making events, so sharing our diary entries helps paint a picture of how the whole world copes in a crisis. Many of us are already keeping diaries without realising it, whether it’s uploading a photo of your walk each morning or sharing social media posts.
“Diary-keeping was like turning to a trusted friend and pouring your heart out, although in a much more intimate way – there was only you, the pen and the paper,” she says. “But now we’re realising it can be done more casually than that, simply as a way to connect with others by connecting with ourselves.”
“Never before have we had easier access to witness the experiences of so many others,” says Peta. “It’s not just about social media, either – people have become more willing to share.”
Perhaps it’s because so many people have discovered the self-care benefits of diary keeping? Research by Dr Robyn Moffitt, a lecturer in Psychology in the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences at RMIT University, has found reflective writing can, for example, help women manage their body dissatisfaction.
Robyn says that, from a psychological perspective, there’s evidence keeping a diary is a useful way to engage in healthy self-monitoring of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
“Reflecting on past events in our mind can often lead to self-critical and unhelpful thinking, or even rumination, which can exacerbate distress,” she says. “But keeping a diary and writing things down as they happen can provide perspective on the frequency and severity of different events. We can use this to correct distorted thinking, process past events, problem-solve and create new meanings. In some ways, this makes it similar to psychotherapy.”
Diaries are also a way to share our thoughts, allowing others to learn from our experiences or put theirs into perspective. Peta – through a research collective known as The Symphony of Awkward – is studying live diary readings and the notion of the ‘found-footage’ nature of diaries.
“A diary gives us a means to speak to one another, not just ourselves,” says Peta. “Think of it like discovering an old memory – forgotten clues from your past self that could help you through current challenges. Live diary readings are a chance for others to discover that younger version of you too.”
While historians can study past events by reviewing news reports, only diaries – and vlogs in the modern day – can let future generations truly experience history though the eye of the beholder.
“Curating an experience for yourself allows for an honest, subjective and complex account of history,” said Murray.
Have we convinced you to keep a diary? Check out a few of our favourites below!