Your first kiss. The time you failed in maths. Diaries have traditionally been the place to write down your experiences, private thoughts and secrets. Now, with the help of a journal app, you can easily keep a digital record of them and much more, be it sporting activities, successful recipes or pleasant get-togethers with friends.

These apps can log, in a single place, not only events and activities but also your ideas, moods and personal goals, allowing you to create a “life album” of sorts that you can organise in various ways with various points of focus.

“An app, in my opinion, must be easy to use,” says app developer Gregor Pichler, a mobile computing specialist and lecturer at the Upper Austria University of Applied Sciences’ School of Informatics, Communications and Media in Hagenberg, Austria. “The simpler and more obstacle-free a journal app is, the better.”

In addition, he says, the app must have appealing graphics, a simple design, not prompt you unnecessarily for passwords and not pressure you to make daily entries. The security of the data you store in the journal app is naturally very important too.

“Ideally, the journal entries shouldn’t leave the device, but be stored and utilised locally on your personal devices,” says Pichler. To ensure that the entries aren’t lost, you should get an app that gives you the option of storing them in a personal cloud.

Among the interesting features of current journal apps are the ability to attach photos or voice memos to the entries, and the integration of other tools and services, for example from the sphere of music and vital data.

“For users who don’t want to write anything at all, it’ll be possible in the future to add songs in journal apps,” Pichler says.

They could potentially be coupled with a pedometer, for instance, so that you could track on what days you listened to what song while perhaps taking a long walk to one of your favourite places. You could then generate a personal playlist for a particular time period.

“I see it as a plus that many apps in fact get by without the planning-intensive writing process,” remarks Joachim Grabowski, who does research on written speech production and writing processes as a professor at the University of Hanover’s Institute of Psychology in Germany. He says it’s positive from an educational standpoint as it increases participation.

A drawback of keeping a journal without writing, Grabowski says, is that much of what “really” constitutes a journal is missing, for example bringing to mind what concerns you.

“If use of the app is designed for speed and practicality, then experiences aren’t really interpreted and formulated verbally. Rather, small, spotty reports or documentary records are the result,” Grabowski says.

People with a soft spot for “classic” journalling in a notebook probably won’t take to a digital journalling app. “If you like to contextualise things or express yourself verbally, you’re more likely to stick with a traditional medium,” he says.

Against the background of studies showing that writing about traumatic, stressful or emotional events improves both physical and psychological health, Germany passed a law in 2019 requiring statutory health insurance companies to cover the costs of certain health apps prescribed by doctors.

Digital journalling, meanwhile, is often touted for its potential mental health benefits.

“I see [the law] as an important signal, especially in regard to mental health,” says Pichler. – dpa

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