I’ll cut right to the chase. Maintaining a digital journal (journaling on a computer or a tablet) is a lot easier to do than on paper. I think we can all agree on this.
But you likely want an answer to whether the convenience of today’s millennial tools snuffs out the centuries-old essence of analog journaling. Has musing with a keyboard instead of a pen damaged the spiritual, holistic side of the practice?
In a gist: journaling on paper vs computer – which is best? A computer journal is better because of its greater productivity, convenience, security, and accessibility. Although a handwritten journal may be better for cognitive and emotional factors, these benefits also come with digital journaling. A stylus and touchscreen can also mimic the feel of analog writing.
Is It Better To Journal on Paper or Computer?
Overall, there are more advantages to keeping a journal on the computer rather than on paper. Why can I say this with conviction?
First, I got all scientific and pondered over as many pros and cons of journaling on either platform as I could find. From there, I categorized these under criteria that are important to us folks who journal regularly. If a criterion ends up with more pros under it than cons, I consider it to be positive overall, and vice versa.
Second, I layered these findings against the backdrop of my own experience to form a calculated opinion. And, it seems that even though I like the tactility of pen-to-paper, I’m actually far more consistent, productive, and efficient at keeping a digital journal.
Summary of the Positives and Negatives
A handwritten analog journal is portable, low-cost, healthier, and arguably more fun to maintain. But these traits aren’t that big of a deal compared to the many inconveniences caused by inferior productivity & efficacy, security & privacy, and accessibility.
By contrast, although typing in a digital log may feel emotionally numbing at first, the above factors otherwise weak in paper journaling turn into decisive advantages, making electronic journaling the ideal choice.
Plus, beneficial brain stimulation and therapeutic value are still part of journaling on a computer. These simply have to be nurtured to match the “holistic” experience of paper journaling.
Here’s the list of criteria – or “main desires” – that I used for organizing all the pros and cons:
- Health factor (the physical, emotional, and mental benefits)
- Fun factor (does it feel like a hobby or a chore?)
- Productivity & efficacy (big words for “do you like the quality of your journaling?”)
- Convenience (how much effort is needed to finish, edit, or fix your content)
- Security & privacy
- Portability (can you easily carry the journal around?)
- Accessibility (can you easily convert your journal to another format?)
Pros and Cons of Writing on a Paper Journal
Health Factor (Definitely a Positive)
The pros. According to research, writing by hand activates more parts of the brain than typing does. This is because handwriting involves more sensory-motor coordination and forces you to purposefully engage with more factors. The result? Improved memory and comprehension of deeper concepts.
Writing a journal by hand is more emotionally satisfying, even cathartic. Why? The slower process of handwriting better connects your thoughts with your feelings, allowing you to work these out more effectively in a self-constructing manner.
Fun Factor (Arguably a Positive)
The pro. Journaling by hand can bring loads of joy to those who enjoy the tactility of stationery. Countless people love experimenting with fountain pens, various inks, and tools otherwise irreplaceable by an Apple Pencil. This is why analog bullet journaling is such a big craze.
The con. For those unenthused by doodles and design, who simply want their journal to be purely practical without the aftereffects of calligraphy or playful font, writing on paper might not be that enjoyable at all compared with typing.
Productivity & Efficacy (More of a Negative)
The pro. Because of the slower, more focused method offered by handwriting, you might find it easier to tap into your deepest feelings. The result is better quality, sentimental journal entries.
The cons. A paper journal takes a lot more upkeep. Time is rare in our hectic world and, for practicality’s sake, it might not be worth taking twice, thrice, or even quadruple (i.e. designing BuJo spreads) the amount of time to just keep track of life.
If you lose motivation, the chances of altogether giving up on journaling are really high. How so? Perhaps you’re disheartened by the look of your handwriting and feel that there’s no hope of improving. Or, maybe you’ve lost interest in your current theme and wish to restart but are overwhelmed by the thought of recommitting.
It’s much harder to include and manage multimedia if these are important to your journaling experience. For instance, how can you attach a video to your notebook?
Convenience (Definitely a Negative)
The pro. All you need are a notebook and a pen to keep a paper journal.
The big con. Fixing mistakes, copying & pasting, or speedily jotting down notes are all a pain in the rear with pen and paper. Look, I for one romanticize the use of stationery products. My wife likewise swears by her analog tools. I just love the crispy feel of a nib gliding across archival quality paper. However, I’m also clinically OCD. It drives me nuts when, at the last stage of my calligraphy stroke, the ink feathers or pools; or, when the ruler shifts as I’m drawing a prominent line on my BuJo spread.
Security & Privacy (Definitely a Negative)
The pro. Unless you migrate your journal onto a digital platform, you’re safe from hackers or other online lurkers.
The cons. Although most high-quality notebooks nowadays are made of acid-free paper, they’re still subject to elements and time. Natural disasters such as fires and floods can hit with striking suddenness, possibly disintegrating your hard work in a flash.
An old-fashioned key-lock isn’t as foolproof as two-factor authentication. And, with enough determination, pesky siblings or a thief could find your secret hiding spot and hack open your journal, revealing the real you.
Portability (More of a Positive)
The pros. A notebook is as big or small, as thick or thin, and as light or heavy as you prefer. You can easily take your handwritten journal almost anywhere without much hassle.
No power, no problem. You don’t need electricity to keep a paper journal. This might sound like a joke, but with the increase of extreme weather events like the cold snap that blew out all of Texas’ power grid in February 2021, such a trait might prove unexpectedly useful.
Accessibility (Definitely a Negative)
The cons. It’s very difficult and time-consuming to backup, migrate, or convert the contents of your handwritten journal.
Cost (Definitely a Positive)
The pro. Paper journaling is an inexpensive pastime. Even chronic stationery hoarders end up spending a negligible amount of their savings on notebooks, pens, and Washi tape.
Writing by Hand – My Own Take on Paper Journaling
There are some things technology will never be able to replace, like how faux LED flames will never beat an authentic wood fire. Similarly, the sentiment of analog journaling, along with its mystique of antique quills and candlelight, will never go away. And you and I will always enjoy it (well, at least the thought of it, from time to time).
Sad to say, however, I think technology, like a steadily rising tide, is drowning out the few yet noble advantages of paper journaling. Writing on a paper journal is definitely for the FEEL rather than for the convenience.
The problem is, once this feeling wanes, or you face a string of busy or lethargic days, it’s seriously tasking to open up a bound booklet and start physically transcribing your mood, no matter how honorable your intentions are.
Pros and Cons of Typing on a Computer Journal
Health Factor (Kind of a Negative)
The pro. Dissecting your thoughts by typing them out on a computer provides the same therapeutic value as would writing them out on paper. However, you’ll admittedly need stronger concentration and sharper focus.
The cons. Due to the impersonal nature associated with screens, digital journaling might not trigger as much of an emotional response. For instance, your typed answer to a journaling prompt might not be as “soulful” as one written by hand.
There are known health risks associated with excessive use of electronic devices, such as strained eyes, sore neck & shoulders, and insomnia. If your habit is to journal before bed, regular exposure to blue light from the screen could mess up your internal clock. It did to mine!
Fun Factor (Kind of a Negative)
The con. Typing a journal entry might be creatively detaching or feel like work instead of therapy, especially for those whose professions already involve gazing at a screen all day.
Productivity & Efficacy (Definitely a Positive)
The pros. A computer journal is so much easier to manage than an analog one. For example, there’s a buffet of dedicated apps for note-taking and journaling such as Evernote, OneNote, Day One, Penzu, and Notion, to name but a few. Some of these can be customized to either be a minimalistic planner or an artful e-BuJo.
You gain access to design and multimedia tools otherwise unavailable on paper. For example, a typical journal entry in Evernote could include snippets from the web, a photo album, audio playlists, and video reels.
In terms of aesthetic design, a visually pleasing journal takes less time to do digitally because of technology. Plus, artistic resources such as fancy fonts and vector “doodles” are available everywhere online (often free).
You’ll get over the impersonal and “emotionless” nature of typing once you realize how much time – and frustration over mistakes – it saves you. Besides, it’s possible to mimic the feel of handwriting by using a stylus with a tablet.
The con. With YouTube or Netflix open, you might become too distracted to dedicate enough brainpower to completing a meaningful journal entry.
Convenience (Definitely a Positive)
The pro. EVERYTHING is quicker and easier with a digital journal. Things can be copied, pasted, deleted, undone, redone – all with the press of a hotkey. Jotting down a note on my phone during the day then migrating it to my journal on the laptop, even weeks later, is effortless. I’m certain that if Leonardo da Vinci had a keyboard, he’d have written a whole library compared to the 7000-plus pages we presently know about.
Security & Privacy (More of a Positive)
The pros. It’s easy to create multiple backups of your journal. You can store them in different locations for better safety as well, such as an off-site hard drive or a secure web server.
As long as the security systems you’re using are robust, the chances of someone hacking into your journal are slim. Encryption, security prompts, and two-factor authentication are commonplace nowadays.
The cons. Poor maintenance of your electronic files, hardware, and software could wipe out your legacy forever. Always create multiple backups of your files and migrate them regularly to newer media. Also, be sure to convert them into different app formats in case the one you’re using is unexpectedly discontinued by the developer.
Clever hackers can always find loopholes, especially in flawed security systems. But attentiveness on your part and multiple layers of security should mitigate much of this risk.
The pro. Electronics are increasingly becoming lightweight, durable, and concise. There’s little difference between bringing along your iPad and a Leuchtturm1917 A5 notebook.
The con. No power, no journaling. Spilled coffee on the laptop? No journaling until it’s fixed (I wouldn’t be in the mood for journaling for a while if this were to happen).
Accessibility (Definitely a Positive)
The pros. If you store your journal on the Cloud, all updates to it could occur in real-time across multiple platforms, hence liberating you from being confined to a single device.
Most journaling apps and word processors offer extensive file compatibility. In other words, it’s a breeze exporting your journal into whatever file format you need to maintain and preserve it.
Cost (Could Be a Negative)
The pro. Most of us don’t fork out cash on a computer or other expensive electronic device solely to journal. So, you could argue that the cost of keeping a digital journal is an indirect one. If viewed this way, then the cost is small.
The con. Aside from obvious tech hardware, you may have to dole out a sizeable amount for app subscriptions, cybersecurity, or even a set of specific tools such as an Apple Pencil & iPad.
Journaling on the Computer – My Own Take
I can understand the clamor by the purists within the journaling community that the pen is still mightier than the keyboard. And, to be honest, typing out my feelings felt unauthentic at first, as if I were working through a college thesis or something similarly mundane.
But make no mistake, technology has enhanced rather than tainted the ancient art of journaling. In fact, it’s only encouraged more people in this millennial age to give the wholesome hobby a go.
What about the complaints of soullessness and impersonality towards digital journaling? In my experience, this disorientation – or “lack of fun” – subsides quickly. True, typing out your sentiments might not be as stimulating for your brain, but it won’t make any difference to your heart, as long as you nurture the habit.
Handwriting in a Digital Journal vs Paper Journal
If you can’t motivate yourself to journal without the techie tools but crave the antique sensation of pen & ink, then consider investing in a stylus – a digital pen – for your iPad or another touchscreen tablet. This hybrid system is awesome!
A stylus-touchscreen combo is really the best of both worlds. You get the sensory-motor stimulation of handwriting as well as the functions of a computer, analog-style.
Plus, instead of merely dragging and dropping graphics onto your page, you can doodle and illustrate with your own fingers minus the bane of bleeding, feathering, and skipping ink.
What are the Best Computer Journaling Apps?
If I’ve convinced you that maintaining a computer journal is the best option, then you’re probably wanting a suitable app. Give any of these a try:
- Evernote. The easiest app for building a collection of web content. It’s basically an all-in-one Inbox where anything you put in is cataloged using tags.
- OneNote. Excellent for those wanting an app that resembles the organization of a physical notebook. Like a three-ring binder, you can add sections, pages to the sections, and combine whole sections into notebooks.
- Day One. A very robust journaling app that can integrate photos, videos, audio, the weather, maps, and much more.
- Google Docs. A staple online word processor that’s freely accessible, highly compatible, and user-friendly. If all you need is naked text, you can start safely with Google Docs.
- GoodNotes. The all-around best app for making an artistic bullet journal on your iPad or other tablet.
- Notion. This is my personal app of choice for many reasons. Here’s my simple Notion bullet journal template.
Is It Better to Write by Hand or Computer? – psychologytoday.com
Journaling by Hand vs. Computer (study by Amber Lea Starfire) – writingthroughlife.com
Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebook (British Library) – bl.uk