The Sunday essay: on managing a notes application


In a world of organized social media feeds, Sharon Lam revisits the beautiful chaos of her notes app.

The Sunday Trial is made possible with the support of Creative New Zealand

Original illustration by Sofia Drescher

“Since the note is in my notebook, it probably means something to me. So began Joan Didion’s founding essay on keeping a notebook. Since the note “oh shit this song just released it sounds like it sounds like the theme song hey Arnold, hell yeah wait where da fuck is my rooibos tea” is in my notes app, it probably doesn’t have any meaning or even meaning. It was my takeout immediately after going through some 500 odd notes on my phone, dating back to 2010.

I couldn’t have done that with physical notebooks, which disappear on me like lip balms. However, with notes and cloud sync, I have always carried the same notebook of pages endlessly for over a decade. But while Didion’s Notes are chic snapshots of sleek strangers in hotel sets and letter-writing elite manners, mine read like clues in a crappy remake of Memento. “Hysterical dog pregnancy”, “Plastic bag boy = Shannon”, “the decor made me feel positively about the economy”. Who wrote this? Why? Who is Shannon? In the infinite capacity of digital note-taking, nothing is too small or crazy to write down.

Image: author’s notes

There was also the unplanned celebrity co-opting of the Notes app for a public apology. From Justin Timberlake to Justin Bieber, the familiar but neutral interface helps, at least visually, make people believe that stars are like us – they make mistakes and they also have their phones in dark mode! Their half excuses for sexual assault are in the same font as my air point number, that’s just normal stuff!

Between the Notes app as a public platform for Serious Matters and the Notes app as a pre-installed private ashtray for its thoughts, authenticity and quality can be hard to come by. Which postulates Didion’s theory: is there still room for romance or remembrance in a digital notebook?

Much like the aforementioned Memento protagonist, I spend a level four afternoon trying to make sense of what I just said. had to note. Immediately noticeable are the many “creative” notes (the emphasis here is on the airy quotes around “creative”). Like Lorde, who in her newsletter described the Notes app as a “sort of mythical zone for the modern songwriter,” Notes have been a staple when I, too, am overwhelmed by a mythical bout of unstoppable inspiration. Instead of popular music, I produced more and more serious attempts at poetry and “ideas” suited to r / im14 and it is profound.

Functional notes are mixed with these “creative” notes: account numbers, URLs, addresses, measures. The line between functional and creative can be blurred. Drafts of serious work messages inappropriately rub against sad little 3am confessions to myself. What appears to be the start of a break text is interrupted by information for flat viewing. A list of things I’ve read on T-shirts is the best “poem” I’ve written.

Image: author’s notes

The rest is rubbish. Copy and paste pieces, notes that don’t even make enough sense to be wrong. Why, for example, did I write the word “courage” and nothing else on February 23, 2017? What was I referring to in November 2015 when I wrote that “it’s like giving a half medallion to twins who separate at birth but not really”? Of course, every text is time stamped down to the minute, but those numbers don’t make sense like “46802” or “608 35 391”, which are one of the many strings of numbers that I also wrote down. But without even an ink color to fade, no writing state, and only a limp human brain succumbing to years of instant information and distraction, I can no longer see or understand the woman who wrote the untruth. mathematically than “50%> 80%”.

The app interface flattens everything – time, fatherhood, place. Celebrity writing looks like my writing, and something written eleven years ago looks exactly like something written today. My very first grade was in 2010. Adorably, my high school schedule. It doesn’t appear in the gel pen, or even in its original iOS 3 (!) Interface, but in exactly the same visual fashion as the appointment details for a Covid vaccine.

Things I copied from other people also appear in the same sans serif hand. Some notes make me think “that’s too good, I couldn’t have written that”, and I’m right. I read a series of tongue-in-cheek quotes from Lorrie Moore. Other brief attribution errors include a list of descriptors by Michael Kors on Project Runway, about 30% of Franny & Zooey just retyped with lots of typos and a beloved poem called “hot amoeba ass” by a author now semi-canceled.

Image: author’s notes

Aesthetic homogeneity is perhaps the reason why the screenshot of notes has become a medium for celebrity apologies. There isn’t the stiff body language and unnatural speech of a video excuse, and it’s easier to believe that there isn’t a PR team behind it – the distance between the celebrity and the fan is the same as the distance between the phone and the face.

Ariana Grande was the first in 2015. She took a screenshot of apologies after saying “I hate America” ​​while licking donuts in a store, which makes as much sense as my own cryptic dribbling. . Since then, other celebrities have followed in the format, with varying degrees of success. In one of Taylor Swift’s, a careless reframing left in a visible “research”, ruining the illusion that she had just written the note herself. In reality, a successful apology can take days to draft and “the shorter the statement, the longer it takes” as legal and public relations teams attempt to juggle accountability and public image.

Someone who didn’t consult any being able to read, let alone his teams, was Ja Rule, who in 2017 wrote probably the best (and by better, I mean the worst) apologies. In response to his role in the schadenfreude cultural moment of the Fyre Festival, he wrote that it was “NOT A SCAM”… “I really apologize because it IS NOT MY FAULT”. The caps, the absolute zero effort to appear sorry – beautiful.

For most of us, however, the Notes app is just for the eyes, and maybe that’s where the romance stays. I have never read the notes of a friend or a member of my family, and I never wish to. In a sea of ​​apps that algorithmically trick you to like / share / subscribe, notes remain perfectly unorganized. We can still seem mysterious. “Your notebook will never help me, nor mine will help you,” Didion writes. No one other than me would be helped by my fortune as guessed by a bird (unless you hoped that I would invest in your business which, due to my lack of “financial windfall energy” , it’s better for both of us that I don’t), or the note I made in 2015 about Van Gogh’s supposed nephew accepting my friend request on Facebook (which only helps me to the extent where I’m grateful that I no longer spend my time adding supposed nephews on Facebook).

Image: author’s notes

“Remember what it was like to be me: that’s always the goal”, that’s what Didion comes to. Guess that’s why I always carry hostels addresses in Gili and my grade 12 schedule. The donut apology has since been deleted from Ariana Grande’s official accounts, but is the note still in her phone? Does she already meet him while looking for clues to his past or a wifi password? Unorganized and invisible, the humble notes application has transcended its function as a simple notepad, digital or otherwise. The ever-growing textual soup of our thoughts, URLs, and copy-paste offers an entirely different identity from those we share. My notes are 11 years old now. Will I someday read 20, 30 Years of San Francisco Scratches? Or will Apple have changed the font to Gill Sans? Or go completely wild with a wheelbase? A vintage Times New Roman for iOS 50? The future is uncertain. I can only hope that I will still have notes by my side, and with it: courage.

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