I’m trying to keep up my commitment — inspired by Cindylu — to write twice a week about things mostly unrelated to my work. It hasn’t been easy. It’s not the writing per se; it’s the vulnerability and confidence required to write about myself and my thoughts, even if no one reads these words in the end. How was it that I had more confidence in my twenties? That it was easier to embrace vulnerability back when I had less self-awareness? Why has it become more difficult to share my inner thoughts online when I feel far more at ease with who I am today than I did in my twenties?
I started reading The Diary of Anne Frank when I was 20-years-old and finishing my last semester of community college. I don’t think I read a single book cover to cover while I was in high school. As a general principle, I resisted doing anything I was obligated to do. But after high school, when I started to read for pleasure for the first time, I discovered my love for literature and devoured a new book every week. On January 28, 2001, I transcribed the following from Anne Frank into my journal:
Paper has more patience than people. I thought of this little saying on one of those days when I was feeling a little depressed and was sitting at home with my chin in my hands, bored and listless, weathering wonder to stay in or go out …
All I think about when I’m with my friends are having a good time. I can’t bring myself to talk about anything but ordinary, everyday things. We don’t seem to be able to get any closer and that’s the problem. Maybe it’s my fault we don’t confide in each other. In any case, that’s just how things are, and unfortunately, they’re not liable to change. This is why I’ve started the diary.
This is exactly how I felt. It’s why I started writing in my journal and why that practice later transformed into this blog. “Paper has more patience than people.” There were so many taboo topics I wanted to talk about and had no one to turn to other than the blank pages of my own journal. It was a form of therapy. I was working my shit out, and that’s not something young men in southern California talk about — at least not when I was growing up. Today, Jay Z raps about his therapist. Brad Pitt talks about his therapist. It seems like I have more friends with therapists than without.
It’s still hard for men to talk about … you know, the things we actually spend most of our time thinking about: what we want from our careers, the anxieties of identity politics, the inevitable uncertainty of financial planning, the failures of parenting, the disappointments of our aging bodies, the difficulties of making friends as we grow older, the ups and downs of marriage and sex and finding sources of inspiration. Far easier (and usually more fun) to bond over the latest episode of Game of Thrones, political scandal, or sports game.
Which is why paper still matters to me, or at least its digital form. “Paper has more patience.” Serendipitously, I came of age during a time when text ruled the internet. Not 140 characters, but 14 paragraphs of a blog post. It was a five-year window of shared introspection that far surpassed 20th-century letter writing. And I thought it was here to stay. In rich countries, it has been displaced by filtered photos, selfies, and Snapchat. In poor countries, technology companies are doing away with voice to attract the less literate “next billion” of Internet users:
Instead of typing searches and emails, a wave of newcomers—“the next billion,” the tech industry calls them—is avoiding text, using voice activation and communicating with images. They are a swath of the world’s less-educated, online for the first time thanks to low-end smartphones, cheap data plans and intuitive apps that let them navigate despite poor literacy.
There are many upsides to oral culture — the witty banter, the art of telling a captivating story, the intonation of voice — that are lost in text. Surely, there will be wonderfully creative applications of textless technologies. But then some things will be lost. I know this because I’ve lost those things — introspection, self-criticism, embracing vulnerability — as I’ve stopped writing here.
Of course, it’s not like anyone is taking away my ability to write. It’s my choice. Ideally, I’ll continue to adopt the new technologies of self-expression (even the ones I so often deride like animated GIFs and emojis) while staying forever true to my love for text.