Notes on the notes app

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[Words by Rosie Shackles (she/her)]

[Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash]

In a busy family where everyone constantly came and went, communication through kitchen table top notes was standard. My dad didn’t invest in a mobile phone until the late 2010s, so these scribbles became critical to the workings of our family : I WONT BE HOME TILL 9 EAT WITHOUT ME, or PLEASE NOT FISH FOR DINNER. In fact in the last year, when I’ve actually managed to reach him on his mobile, it’s been almost disappointing, as if the added mystery of this communication (or lack of) was enjoyable all along. Our notes were, and still are, written just legibly on used envelopes, parts of a chronic pile of mail that makes their way from doormat to kitchen table and stay for months on end. Eventually, the letters in this ever growing, crumpled pile, might be read. The envelopes find their fate quickly scribbled on shopping lists or firm yet funny warnings: TAKE OUT BINS OR ELSE; ONLY 5 FRIENDS OVER TONIGHT NO MORE; PLEASE TAKE CHICKEN OUT OF FREEZER TO DEFROST. Most households, be it families or flatmates, will have their own (probably more efficient) system of note taking and communication. Perhaps down the fridge magnet route, or – if living in the here and now – may have disregarded paper form entirely, relying instead on a WhatsApp group chat. 

It is this constant childhood noting that has made me a note-whore in adulthood. Rather than carrying a notebook I now reach for my iPhone to quickly type a thought or a list, although the former is far more romantic. Yet, these digitised notes, quickly typed and insignificant, have materialised into a sort of autobiography, one only understood and translated by me. A huge amount of shit has sat untouched in my notes for years but amongst these endless shopping lists, there are some genuine juicy moments. If they were on paper, they would have been crumpled up and tossed in a bin out of sheer embarrassment. There are the random notes that signify a bad day made better by carbs and alcohol, the film recommendation (that I did actually end up watching), the work shifts, the drafted breakup messages (which I won’t share … ). It’s a life condensed down to the everyday, to the teeny tiny bits we often forget. If they were scattered pieces of paper, these messages would have been recycled without a thought, but instead, these notes etched into the mysterious cloud stay stuck with me forever, mine to rediscover when I long for a taste of nostalgia. 

And below, the ultimate Friday night takeaway lineup from Julie’s Koptiam in Shawlands (the chickpea murtabak is the squidgiest, butteriest and best thing I have eaten in months). 

There’s the endless list of books that I have been meaning to read, recommended by this person and that person. And then there’s the ever-growing, eclectic file of the ones that I’ve read, loved, and will, in turn, recommend to others. Then a not so useful list; names for my hypothetical sausage dog, September 2018 must have been particularly testing. 

Amid the books, the shopping lists, the drafted texts, and the workout plans (that I never actually do), are the recipes; the all-time favourites that have been copied and pasted in for ease, lovingly kept in digital form. 

This mish mash of thoughts turned lists, and lists turned plans, are stored behind a passcode, within reach at all hours of the day and night. Are the notes we keep on our phones a genuine insight of our day to day? A commentary on life, the things left unsaid, the unimportant factors that hold more significance than we realise at the time they are typed. In a decade notes may no longer be left on the kitchen tabletop for me, and my Dad might finally have mastered the art of WhatsApp. I find it sad that we have turned our back on pen and paper, preferring the ease of our screens. But I think we need to embrace our generations’ commodities; we can use our phones to log into our lives, even if we don’t realise it. These notes may appear uninteresting to everyone else but entertaining and nostalgic to us; a reflection on the past and a way to plan the future. Perhaps a note speaks a thousand words. 


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