The iPhone’s Notes App Is the Purest Reflection of Our Messy Existence

In an informal survey of the contents of my coworkers’ Notes apps, I found that multiple people keep drafts of texts or emails to friends or family members. There are lists of forgotten passwords and the requisite travel packing lists. One person says they use Notes to prewrite posts for social media. Others kept lists of mansard roof homes, or a searchable list of friends’ and family’s astrological signs. Multiple people had written their wedding vows in Notes and kept them saved there.

Everyone Take Note

Of course, we plebeians are not the only Notes devotees. Celebrities have been apologizing via heartfelt Notes screenshots for years. TikTok is full of users reminding each other to vent into the Notes app instead of sending an angry text or firing off a spicy social media post. “What’s in your Notes app” is the new “what’s in your bag.” We all have a Notes app. And we all pour the darkest (and brightest!) moments of our souls into it.

When Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo, the duo behind the popular podcast A Thing or Two, did an episode about the ways they used the Notes app, they were shocked by the intensity of the listeners’ responses. Many who wrote in were eager to share the personal ways that they used Notes, from listing baby names that they loved to keeping a “shame log” as a reminder to treat themselves a little more kindly. “Your notes are not public-facing or performative,” Mazur says in a Zoom interview. “You’re being your most authentic self, as opposed to performing what someone wants to see from you.”

Cerulo says that our Notes apps put us directly in touch with our most intimate selves. “’It’s like what one of our commenters said, ‘Forget my search history. When I die, my BFF needs to delete my Notes app.’”

Unlike a photo app expressly devoted to digital memories, my Notes have never triggered what is termed “the miscarriage problem”—the internet’s tendency to ping you with painful, unprompted reminders of traumatic events in your life. I am never made sad by what I see when I go through my notes, or when I ask to see someone else’s. Notes are not polished memories, set in stone. They’re hasty, messy, and generally unhinged. They can even be lyrical; as my colleague Lauren Goode notes (ha ha), “Who among us has not jotted down a random thought on the go and thought, ‘My God, I am a poet.’” (For the record, I have never thought this.)

Especially if you’re a writer like me, it’s tempting to create and adhere to the story of your life. Here is where you started, here is where you made mistakes, here is where you won, and here is where you made that decision you can never take back. Contrasted with all the oppressive, maybe harmful, apps that you may have on your phone, the Notes app serves as a playful reminder that we’re all just works in progress.

This is how we should want to be remembered 50,000 years hence. Not as the composed and probably artificial facades that we present at work or on our holiday cards, but messy and whole. Here we were, loving preposterous baby names or singing the worst songs out loud in public. Here we tried to remember what mattered to the people we loved, what socks they wanted, and what their favorite pizzeria order is. Life isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good, and we’re writing it all down.