The beautiful chaos of the Notes app

We recently asked you, the readers of this newsletter, to bare your souls. In other words: We asked you to share the contents of your Notes apps with us and the world.

You did not disappoint.

From a reader named Michelle: There’s a snail that can rip its head off its body and regenerate a new one, mouth and all. It is thought that they do this to get rid of parasites. This is incredible!

Thanks, Michelle, for this information that I hope none of us ever need to use. [Ed: that sounds like the sacoglossan sea slug.]

The rest of the notes were just as chaotic: a list of imaginary cocktails from a reader named Penny, the details of a puppy Bruce’s bowel movements, and my favorite, a selection of songs Melissa is compiling for play at her funeral. (Everyone eats when they come to my house is the closest.)

As we told you last month, the latest TikTok trend is for users to share Notes app screenshots, usually along with text that says something like never go through a Notes app for girls. The subtext is that we are stranger, less organized, and less screened out versions of ourselves in Notes than, say, Twitter or Instagram. We were literally writing notes to ourselves.

Notes has been around since the original iPhone was released in 2007 (and before that, I heard there was something called a notebook?) Much more sophisticated digital note-taking tools like Evernote and Notion have evolved since then, and some have gained followers obsessive in the type A crowd a lot online.

But if your answers are any indication, what ends up in the Notes app is a million times more random than the color-coded workout schedules and bullet journals that dominate those other apps. Notes is mostly an unstructured brain dump; a destination for the random thoughts we download while in the middle of something else.

A reader named Hillary shared a list of nonsense words she overheard at a conference, including thoughtful, planned, and enforcement. In his Notes app, Mark wrote a sentence to illustrate the meaning of the word fleeting (adj. tends to disappear): I caught a glimpse of that bird before it plunged into thick brush, never to be seen again by me.

Even the most mundane things in Notes can be something of a time capsule. One of the most poignant notes we received was from Janet, who sent her one play after another for Thanksgiving in 2020. She had tomato soup and salad with a pepper jelly vinaigrette (yum!) Before 5:30 cocktails and a family zoom. The big turkey dinner, which was only for two, still took days to prepare: Tuesday she made the pie crusts, Wednesday the bisque, and Thursday the stuffing.

Barbara found a note from six years ago with the title I REMEMBER. Items listed were Whole order 40, Bus 6402 and Be Happy Be Kind Be Thankful. She said she had no idea why she wrote the first two. But the last one, at least, isn’t so bad for all of us to try to remember.

Thanks to everyone who wrote seriously, I feel like I know you much, much better now.

Here’s what else is happening online this week.

This is a debate that will almost certainly continue to have as the generation of kids raised entirely in the age of Instagram comes of age.

I really enjoyed this interview with an anonymous internet star who lays bare what it was really like to grow up online, from Teen Vogue earlier this spring. (Spoiler: they didn’t like having their existence undermined for content.) More recently, this piece from The Atlantic got me thinking about ordinary, ordinary people: Babies whose first steps, tantrums, and jam-covered faces weren’t posted as money-making content, but were posted as content nonetheless.

I have no children, and my 90s childhood, while extremely well documented, has never been digitized for easy sharing. Which is all to say, I’m not going to sit here and pretend I have the answer. But I’m curious if you do? Is there an ethical way to share your children’s life online? How are you navigating this particular digital minefield? Email us, responses may appear in a future newsletter.

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Callie Holtermann contributed to the writing of this newsletter.

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