As a self-proclaimed serial journal collector, Muute, billed as Japan’s first AI journaling app, was all too enticing for me.
Much like a writing prompts journal, the app asks questions that encourage self-reflection. The added AI feature analyzes users’ emotions and provides personal letters at the end of each week and month that give feedback about their thoughts. It also compiles daily entries to graph mood, most used vocabulary, and highlights from the week. After each entry, Muute leaves you with a quote to mull over, or a breathing exercise. Exactly what I need, I thought.
When I was younger, I used to write in my diaries religiously. Writing time was always 30 minutes before lights out and entries were usually recounts of my delicious snacks. Eight-year-old me was highly passionate about chocolate mousse and one report read “Mom did it again. It was so smooth and rich. I want to dream about it.” Apparently, I couldn’t get enough.
But in the last decade, my journaling has matured somewhat. Now, I have notebooks dedicated to varying emotional needs. My daily reflection journal, an inconspicuous tan color that lies on my windowsill, is only ever a few sentences. “Thinking about consequential happiness and what it means to tell the truest story of yourself,” I wrote one day in January. Then I have my “down” diary, where I track all the times I feel sad, to remember life’s difficulties. I turn to it when I don’t understand all the feelings I’m having and hope writing them clears my emotional fog. The most sensitive, top-secret, if-someone-finds-this-I’m-screwed diary, is my no bullshitting journal. I only open it about five times a year, always on my birthday and New Year’s.
Needless to say, I was eager to add Muute to my roulette of journals. I decided to try it out for a week. Though prompt diaries seemed counterintuitive because I’ve always had something to say, the prospect of getting feedback about my feelings sounded helpful. 2021 has been a year of many changes for me. I’ve moved to Japan, leaving my nuclear family to live alone in the middle of a pandemic. I welcome change with open arms, but sometimes, it can be overwhelming. I hoped Muute would help restore some inner balance.
“2021 has been a year of many changes for me. I’ve moved to Japan, leaving my nuclear family to live alone in the middle of a pandemic.”
Past research has indicated that journaling does wonders for mental health. Expressive writing has been shown to reduce unwanted thoughts about negative events, as well as improve working memory. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to thousands of daily deaths, millions out of work, and extreme loneliness, has intensified the need for emotional care. In Japan, suicide rates rose 37 percent for women between July and October, prompting governing officials to consider how to better provide support.
The horrors of our daily lives are enough to keep anyone in bed, but a tool that could aid in improving one’s mental state is emotion AI. As a branch of artificial intelligence, it helps us understand the way we feel. It uses natural language processing technology, which assists computers to understand human language. In a journaling app such as Muute, emotion AI can interpret patterns in users’ language to detect emotion.
Tomoki Yasuda, a 22-year-old college student, uses Muute too. He attested to the app’s usefulness for new self-realizations.
“It’s perfect for busy people; it gives us a chance to calm down and look after ourselves. Through the app, I’m able to notice things about myself that I normally wouldn’t, which helps me understand who I am more objectively,” he told VICE.
Downloading Muute from the App Store doesn’t have quite the same thrill as cracking open a diary for the first time, but the user-friendly interface was instantly attractive. It’s clear that the focal point of Muute is tracking emotional progression over time. Like a calendar, the app’s main page shows my week at a glance. The other pages lead to logs, user profile, and the weekly and monthly insight letters.
The very first question I answered was “How does your family make your life better?” Suspicion arose, as it was a highly coincidental prompt; I had just e-fought with my brother about not giving me enough attention. But after begrudgingly writing about the joys of family, I noticed my resentment had dissipated. Such is the power of selective positive thinking — we forget tedious arguments.
Over the week, the app consistently asked me positivity-driven questions, such as “What is a recent thing you learned?” and “Who helped you this week?” My moodflow graph showed two curves; an orange “positive” emotion one, and a blue “negative” feeling one. The curves spiked and dipped, depending on my entry for that day. Monday to Tuesday, the lowest point, was when I fought with my brother. Tuesday to Wednesday was a highlight for me, and was coincidentally the day I received some positive feedback about an article I wrote.
Initially, using the app felt like a task to complete at night, which is how I’ve always journaled. But as the week went by, I realized I was checking Muute throughout the day. I looked at the log to see whether what I had felt was a bad day was interpreted similarly by the app. The end-of-the-week letter felt slightly vague, given the app didn’t have many entries to work with. But it had an understanding tone; it said I wasn’t alone in my worries and encouraged me to focus on my future.
The sole criticism I have about Muute is that the prompts all seemed positive. The only time I truly reflected on sad thoughts was when the app asked me to select three categories that I’m most worried about, as well as three words that best described my feelings.
It’s a good mental exercise to practice positive thinking, but at the same time, I’m a firm believer in the value of sadness. If we don’t know grief or pain, we have nothing to compare our happiness to. Having the space to explore sadness makes us much more well-rounded and empathetic; the world isn’t stretches of paradise, and we shouldn’t trick ourselves to believe that.
To those who feel like they’re missing that additional software of self-understanding, I’d give AI journaling apps a try. It’s a great supplement to add to free-writing spaces, and the way Muute is contextualized does help you see the bigger narrative arc of your life. The app helps you notice emotional patterns and simplifies the complexity of human emotion. You realize small downfalls are only temporary, and that life will always have more to offer than what you see in front of you.
“The app helps you notice emotional patterns and simplifies the complexity of human emotion. You realize small downfalls are only temporary, and that life will always have more to offer than what you see in front of you.”
Over the years, I’ve heard the incessant hammering of “Know who you are!” or “Just be yourself!” Sometimes, you just don’t. And that’s okay. I’ve ceased trying to demystify every single fear, happiness, and pain, and instead decided to work towards understanding how fears make me click. It’s an ongoing process, but I welcome tools that can help me grow in the right direction.