Always somethin’ there to remind me

How a journaling app helps me hear from my loved ones, even after they pass.

Rebooting is a biweekly newsletter about how to use technology to take better care of ourselves.

At the end of 2017, I had to have surgery to repair an unfortunate hernia. Fitness is how I got through some of the hardest periods of my life. It’s what I turn to whenever I need to clear my head or blow off some steam. But the surgery kept me from working out for nearly a year. At the end of 2018, I was finally confident enough to walk into a gym by myself. It usually went well, but occasionally I felt discouraged by how much I had regressed since my surgery. In these times, I’d call my nana to hear her glowing voice. I can’t make that call anymore.

In July of 2017, I published my first article for Wired. I was beyond nervous to face the scrutiny of the internet, but ultimately ecstatic for the opportunity. While waiting for my bus home, I realized I had missed a voicemail from my nana. In it, she gushes over her ability to understand every bit of my article, despite her self-proclaimed tech illiteracy, and said she was proud of me for being able to explain things plainly.  Whenever I doubted myself, she was always able to lift me up and get me moving again.

Since she passed away last month, I can’t just pick up the phone for this kind of lift. But I’ve discovered a great way to collect and surface the digital artifacts she’s left behind, whenever I might need them.

Journey, available on pretty much any device you’d want, is my favorite journaling app. You can use it to reflect on your day, keep track of important moments, or just a place to dump all your thoughts. But you can also easily upload audio files into your journal entries. You can use this to do voice journaling, throw in that podcast episode you’re really proud of, or even add a soundtrack to each entry.

Since 2016, I’ve used it to collect and remind me of messages from loved ones, to help pick me up in my times of need. Whenever someone sends me something meaningful, like a sweet text or voicemail, I make a new entry with the attached file. For texts, that’s a quick screenshot. For voicemails, I create an m4a of the message in iOS (mp3 exports aren’t supported), then (and you’ll need a PC for this part) convert it to an mp3, and toss iOS’s automated transcript from the Phone app into the text box in case I don’t have any headphones close by. After setting up the new entry, I use the tag “#fromlovedones” to see them all at a glance. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

After my nana died, I frantically scrolled through my voicemails to find any from her. I found three: her annual happy birthday message from 2017, a message asking me to find a replacement for her damn iPhone, and the message she sent me after reading my article. I converted each of these into journal entries and added them to the app as “Flashback entries,” which the app resurfaces yearly on a specific day. Now, even though she’s gone, my nana will still send me a message wishing me happy birthday this year.

In the news

Why "Doing Nothing" Is the Best Self-Care for the Internet Era: As much as I love feeling like I’ve been working hard, my favorite thing in life is the rare day where I have nothing on my plate and I don’t have to leave bed. Jenny Odell is proposing a different kind of “doing nothing” though. We get so caught up in being productive that sometimes we forget to do things for ourselves, or just spend some time alone with our thoughts. In this interview, Odell says “the least productive thing is burning out.” It’s true! So remember to take the time to do something you enjoy, even if it doesn’t make you feel productive.

Something Nice

Hot Ones: This is one of my favorite interview shows,  featuring celebrities ranging from from Chrissy Teigen to Vince Staples. As the interview progresses, guests are encouraged to eat the increasingly spicy wings laid in front of them. The result is not just funny, it’s also insightful. You can fall into this enjoyable rabbit holes via this playlist.

As always, if you have any questions, feedback, or just want to say hello, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter.

My thanks to Daniel Varghese for editing this issue.