Ode to the Notes App


The notes app stores our most vulnerable thoughts from grocery lists to song lyrics. (Courtesy of Flickr)

I see memos from past Sunday’s newspaper budget meeting, a handy list of condenser microphone settings, a particularly poignant sentiment from Khalil Jibran’s “Sand and Foam,” a list of groceries I need to buy from Cherry Valley this Friday…

What do all these things have in common? They’re entries in my notes app. Most smartphones have something like it. At first glance, it’s a place to keep track of various, well, notes. Upon further reflection, it is an essential collection of personal media. 

I think there is a tendency to separate the serious from ourselves, and to separate “real art” from our personal muses. That which is sophisticated must be created with sophistication in mind, we assume, and things written out of instinct or pure necessity are deemed dregs of deeper thought. Look at it this way: Whether due to academia,  the AP style guide or the social cues that define an Instagram caption, we find ourselves limited and constrained by stylistic convention. 

When I open up my notes app there is no limit, there are no academic or social styles that I must conform to. The only stylistic thread that runs through each note is that they are mine. All the work, the phone numbers, the lines of poetry and the various shopping lists only have to do with me. 

…A list of concerts I’ve been to so far, beginning in 2017 and ending last night, random measurements from a pergola I built over the summer (“65-inch 4x4s and 105½-inch 4x6s”), helpful D&D websites, an exasperatingly pretentious question from 2016 (“thought: are the erosion of class distinction and the fortification of individualism mutually exclusive or combined goals?”)…

I think about the Walt Whitman quote from “Song of Myself 51:” “Do I contradict myself? / Very well, then I contradict myself / (I am large, I contain multitudes).” It sounds serious, and to quote it feels kitschy. But when I examine my notes app, I can’t help but notice the various contradictions that comprise what it is to be me. Where else do I have a dashboard in which I can jot down every thought that runs through my head, free from critique (save for my future self)? Where else can I expound endlessly upon belief and feeling, even though for the most part it is annoyingly pompous or facile? There is nowhere else I can really do that. 

Even those who keep journals or diaries know that in all spaces but the notes app, we hold ourselves to arbitrary standards of writing and observation. On the notes app we compose revenge texts, love letters, ideas for essays and personal statements. We record things that, for all intents and purposes, do not belong anywhere else. We record things solely for ourselves. 

This brings me to my main point. Just as we have a tendency to separate the serious from the intimate, we have a tendency to write these notes off as extraneous to ourselves. The notes app is where you dump ideas, thoughts and anything else that has no defined place to reside. But upon reviewing the countless notes I have collected, I can see that what is dumped is not extraneous at all. Rather, it is integral to myself. It is my own media collection, where the style guide is my personality. It is where the painfully personal and the hilariously unimportant collide. I flip through documents that have changed my life, and I flip through documents I have no reason not to delete because, in a strange way, they are me. 

…A copy of the last few texts my grandfather sent before he passed away in 2018; XBox account numbers from 2014; lines of what pass for poetry, written during a road trip through the southwest in 2017; a voice-to-text description of my childhood home, recorded on the day my family packed up and moved…

So, this is an ode to the notes app, where we are at once the troubled author, the inspired lyricist, the insightful reporter and the impassioned speechwriter. The notes app, which is the piece of media we visit most often yet appreciate the least. The notes app, which is a paradoxically comforting purgatory between the insides of our heads and the outside world. 

Thank you for receiving all that is important to us, as well as all that is unimportant, and for letting us look back with awe and a fair amount of embarrassment. Thank you for affording us a place to take ourselves seriously, to compose personal epics and profound reflections. Thank you for letting us remark on the glib, harp on the pesky, categorize the inane. Thank you for serving as a sounding board for our lives, and in so doing, capturing our personalities at their most visceral.

For all those that may not have done so in a while: I encourage you to wander back through your notes app. Scroll back, scroll down, scroll far and take the time to appreciate all you’ve seen and all you’ve been.