I opened the notes app on my phone to find a blank screen. I froze, slack-jawed, the way you do when you realize you’ve emailed the wrong person or left your favorite piece of clothing in a hotel room miles away.
I had gone to pick up something I had written about my hometown after a recent visit, a little thought at the time. The app was empty.
A few days earlier, my dad had changed a setting on our family iCloud, and the notes were gone. It was an innocent mistake. But it also left him – a boomer! – in disbelief that I haven’t backed up my phone since Feb 2020.
For the past three years, and possibly longer, I’ve used the Notes app as an “always with me” journal. There was no order, no files, no crazy method.
It contained everything from draft Christmas cards to an itinerary for a recent trip to Melbourne to the speech I wrote for my best friend’s college graduation on Zoom. There were movie recommendations, books to read, and restaurants to try. There would have been some important text message drafts somewhere, right next to a list of rentals I had inspected and why almost all of them were bad. I wrote down the questions I was asked during my job interview in order to remember what caught me off guard. To my father’s amazement, the application also contained several passwords.
These recorded moments were seemingly insignificant and sometimes important. Yes, there were shopping lists, but there were also wacky ideas for a book I might write one day and comments I heard from people watching.
Perhaps most tragically there were observations of the first year of Covid, when everyday life changed completely. When a couple at the supermarket were trying to decide whether or not to panic and buy canned pasta and tomatoes like everyone else, I wrote down what they said. There were also the good things: kids in dinosaur pajamas eating croissants by the beach early in the morning because their parents weren’t rushing to work and it was so nice. But I can never review exactly what I wrote, or exactly when it was.
Some immediately understood my grief at this loss. A friend uninvited pulled out her phone, opened her notes app, and read a stream of nonsensical thoughts she had written, many of which no longer made sense. She compared reading some up to 2017 to reliving the person she was. Another friend immediately responded to my panicked texts with expletives in all caps.
It can be difficult for some to grasp the seriousness of the situation. You definitely can’t use the notes this a lot? What about the good old pen and paper? But like Carrie’s laptop dying in Sex and the City, or Amy burning Jo’s manuscript in Little Women, my collection of seemingly insignificant moments counted like a magnum opus. To anyone who doesn’t, the question “You don’t save?” is somehow always infuriating.
Whether or not it’s a generational thing, everyone has a time capsule they couldn’t bear to lose, digital or otherwise. We fear losing hard drives that store years of photos (how many backups of backups is it realistic to make?) or irreplaceable travel journals.
Although heartbreaking, this experience was a moment of coming to Jesus. After exhausting all options to recover my lost notes, including downloading questionable iPhone backup software, I immediately backed everything up, twice. I have severed ties with my family’s iCloud account so that I can have sole control and full responsibility for any repeat occurrences of this nature.
But like finishing a really good book and not wanting to dive straight into a new read, I couldn’t face the blank canvas of the app in the days that followed. Almost a week later, I instinctively opened it to write a list of things to do for the weekend. I don’t need to keep this one forever, but I could think of something on the bus to work tomorrow that’s worth saving.
I don’t know how many notes I had or if there were any pearls of wisdom in my streams of consciousness. It won’t take me long to put together a new collection. But beware, because I have a tip: don’t learn the hard way that your to-do lists matter as much as your thoughts on life’s big moments. Back up your phone!