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  1. Michael Palin: "There's no such thing as an ordinary life"
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  4. Ordinary People and Behavioral Studies - Psychology and Literature

Amabile and her team found that a sense of making progress on meaningful work was the single most important factor in igniting creativity, satisfaction, and productivity among employees—far more than factors like monetary compensation, praise, or camaraderie. How do I interpret this memo that came out of upper management today?

What does that mean about how they view us in this department or on this team? How did it make me feel when this person stopped by and showed interest in my ideas and bounced some ideas off of me? It was like their little news bulletin was incomplete without telling us about that psychological impact.

Diary of an Ordinary Woman

Amabile is hopeful that other researchers will begin to study the psychological processes of everyday people as they tackle creative endeavors in the course of their work lives. But, I believe, it is one of the most important. Say, a top Presidential advisor, or a 4 star general. Cabinet secretaries probably wouldn't rate; these days the US cabinet is meaningless.

If you're just a random snowflake, the chance of your diary being historically important is negligible. Assuming you are not famous, your best bet is to record copious amounts of information about the lives of everyone you know in the hopes that they will become famous and early, intimate information will be lacking. I disagree with those saying an ordinary person's journal will not be of interest. Write about your experience, whatever it is, and I think it will be of potential interest to someone.

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The key, I would think, is to make your entries: 1 regular 2 frequent 3 detailed 4 honest Many people live and die without leaving any detailed written account of themselves. Most blogs don't last very long. Twitter is just plain stupid. A detailed, long running journal even in our time is going to be a rarity. Whether a journal will be of interest to future historians has nothing to do with being an important person, famous person, or hanging around with important or famous people.

Ignore the advice above suggesting that. Journals, diaries and letters of very ordinary people have been of interest to historians for many reasons. For example sometimes they can help to reconstruct what the weather conditions were, day by day, in a particular place — which can help shed light on other events. Or they help illuminate what life was like, in that place and at that time, for people at various socioeconomic levels, for women, for servants, etc. But without knowing how the non-famous lived, we really can't understand the era, and journals are extremely valuable in that regard.

So if you want to be "intentional," write for the benefit of a future reader who is interested in how you lived, what challenges you faced, how you overcame them, who your friends were, what you ate, what your read, what places you visited, etc. Despite the amount of information now being collected and archived about our civilization, those personal patterns of living are not going to be well understood except through journals, essays, letters, memoirs and other personal records.

Don't worry, my journal is paper and pen, and involves far fewer typos. I'm a little surprised at the responses, which I am guessing aren't coming from historians. Some of the most significant journals, speaking in the scholarly sense, have indeed been those of private individuals who were not famous and didn't write anything they expected to be of interest later on. Fame has very little to do with makes a journal of interest to historians. The best-known recent example is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale , the diary of a woman in eighteenth-century rural Maine who wrote about delivering babies, growing a garden, having visitors, the weather, and other topics people considered unremarkable for centuries.

When Ulrich indicated that she wanted to write about this diary, her professors told her no, everything useful had already been gotten out of it. Boy, were they wrong. Her work on this diary revolutionized the social history of Colonial New England. All from what seem like brief, bare-bones two- and three-line entries. It's a great read.

Fame is not that important to historians. Famous people's lives are generally well documented in sources other than a journal - newspapers, proceedings, parodies, letters, legislative records, etc.

My Personal Journal

PRivate people's lives are, in fact, a lot harder to find out about and lot more interesting to people practicing history today. What we know about events like the Civil War or even World War II, life aboard an American whaleship or on the frontier, we mostly know by the writings of non-famous people who simply observed and recorded the detail of daily life. At some level it's impossible to say what historians of the future will find important and interesting about our time, and it will change, anyway. Diaries of non-famous people were scoffed at for a long time before they began to be taken seriously as sources of historical evidence.

But I think there are some general principles. For one, write about things that aren't documented elsewhere.

Michael Palin: "There's no such thing as an ordinary life"

IF you're writing about major news events, don't relate the event, talk about how it impacted your thoughts and feelings, what changes it has caused in your family and friends' lives, how things are now different for you than they were before. Write about hyperlocal phenomena that are not likely to be recorded in major media or social media. Observing and writing about local people and day-to-day life, controversies and debates, contentious issues and local traditions can be really important. Describe the built environment and its condition.

Write about the weather and wildlife. No, really. Weather data is pretty topline, and today, environmental historians have become super interested in diary mentions of particular birds and mammals and plants and the like from 18th and 19th century diaries, because it provides evidence for reconstructing changes in the climate. Tell what birds come to your feeder. Consider doing a lot of inventorying.

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It can be really hard to understand what people actually had in the past at any one time - something may have been invented, but just because I live in the time of the iPhone 5 doesn't mean I can afford one. Historians use inventory information to figure out patterns of class, ethnicity, taste, etc. Write about daily routines. How far did you range in a day? What did you do, buy, who did you talk to? How do you relate to those people, what's your relationship like?

Reconstructing past networks and travel patterns is of big interest now, as we do things like trace the intellectual history of the movement of ideas, or look at invasive species and how they got where they are. Write about your joys and frustrations. It is hard to determine how people felt about things and events unless they describe them. Are you happy with your house, family life, job, hobbies?

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IS there more you yearn for? ARe you envious of other people and what they have? Are you satisfied at having come this far? Are you thrilled to have overcome any limitations in life? Reconstructing the attitudes of past times - the stuff that moves history - is one of the most difficult things to do, and diaries are one of the most useful resources to do it with. I'm going to disagree.

I bet some Mayan or Egyptian said something like that once. What if the power goes out forever and people can't access it? If your journal is going to be written on paper I think that is one way it might be valuable. I would like to read about what everyday life is like. That is the kind of stuff I would like to know about the Egyptians and Mayans.

What was a Thursday night like? What were some of their funniest jokes?

Ordinary People and Behavioral Studies - Psychology and Literature

What were social conventions or slang? I disagree strongly about "you need to be famous". On the contrary - famous people aren't like "ordinary people. So in terms of your own diary - detail. NoraCharles has it - what'd they do when dinner was over and they were all sitting around shooting the shit?

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    • I also strongly disagree with this. Sure, a lot of twitters and facebooks are mundane and quotidian individually. But the Library of Congress is archiving all tweets, and those tweets are going to be a valuable resource in the aggregate. A future historian is presumably going to be able to search all tweets on a given day in a specific region or with a certain hashtag, and will be able to come to conclusions using the archive of those tweets in conjunction with other documents. Given Twitter and social media's demonstrated use and value in major protests and revolutionary movements, no historian can discount them as primary source archives.

      Short of you livetweeting from Tahrir Square in Cairo though, I think it's a little tough to say exactly what could make your journal interesting to future historians now, since we don't necessarily know what earth-shattering event or subtle sea change is happening or will happen that would be of interest in the future.