The Importance of Documentation

The Importance of Documentation

Sarah Haggart

March 30, 2020

I want you to close your eyes and picture a world without pictures. A place with no photographs, paintings, drawings, anything that recounts the visual characteristics of a face, every memory you hold dear, even every historic event that has been placed into the indexes of our history books. Picture a world without diaries recounting our biggest accomplishments— notepads filled with endless inspiration, even the little digital sticky notes on our laptops that remind us how much our boyfriends and girlfriends adore us. 

It’s second nature to experience the extensive ways documentation, in all of its cherished forms, has impacted our lives on a daily basis. The ways our society uses documentation have shifted beyond what would be recognizable to previous generations— particularly with the rise of social media and the internet. Though there can be many negative implications of social media (I’m sure you can think of quite a few as you read this article), there are many benefits to documenting one’s life journey, such as being able to look back on memories of vacations and achievements, handwriting journal entries to boost our mental health, and even being able to remember loved ones who are not with us anymore. 

the author's dad's house, circa 2015. A seventeenth century farm house with a wrap around stone porch and hand-made wood detailing around the windows.

Once upon a time in the TedTalk universe, there was a video director and animator  by the name of Cedar Kuriyama, who shot one second clips everyday from his perspective for an entire year. Later, he cut them together into one long video. A project that much resembles the way we use social media: constantly visually documenting our experiences, dreams, goals, etc. 

“I hate not remembering things that I’ve done in the past,” said Kuriyama. “There’s all these things that I’ve done with my life that I have no recollection of unless someone brings it up, and sometimes I think, ‘Oh yeah, that’s something that I did.’” 

 Even in a world dictated by our constant desire to photograph experiences for the sake of getting attention and engagement on our various social media platforms, we tend to forget day-to-day experiences. Kuriyama later states that he learned to be grateful for all of the negative experiences we go through after a close relative became incredibly ill. His immediate family stayed at the hospital for days on end, but incredibly enough, Kuiyama stayed true to his pact. He continued to capture the day as it was.

He concluded, “We tend to take our cameras out when we’re doing awesome things. Or we’re: ‘Oh, yeah, this party, let me take a picture.’ But we rarely do that when we’re having a bad day, and something horrible is happening. And I found that it’s actually been very, very important to record even just that one second of a really bad moment. It really helps you appreciate the good times.” 

the author's cat Lucy and her laying on her living room floor after senior prom, her cinderella ballgown spread out around her, circa 2016.

Another way we can benefit from the power of documenting our experiences is through not only capturing images and video, but handwriting in journals. For many, it’s not a new concept to write down our deepest desires or our biggest fears onto a seemingly endless pad of paper, as a lot of us have been doing this since we were very young. In recent years, there have been studies showing significant benefits that come with this practice, if done consistently. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, those who journal regularly are actively helping themselves manage anxiety, and reduce mental and emotional stress. Furthermore, those who journal regularly may help themselves cope with painful mental illness such as depression. This is mainly due to how they are journalling, as it can “help prioritize problems, fears, and concerns, track any symptoms day-to-day so that [one] can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them, and provide an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors.” 

Regardless of who we are, and where we are in society at large, we are all capable of using documentation to our personal benefit in both old and new ways. Pick up a journal, or a camera, and see what a new project of documentation can do for your mind and soul. 

Sarah Haggart, known professionally on social media and within the world of blogging as “Kingdoms and Iced Coffee,” is finishing up her senior year in MSU’s professional writing program, focusing on writing, editing, and content management. Aside from building her empire, you can find her geeking out over the latest period drama on netflix, riding horses, and embarrassing the hell out of her beloved friends.