The Today Project
“People don’t know what’s important about their todays until they’ve todayed it.”
Today. Today is a word we hear often.
Today I went to the market. Today I bought produce. Today I made a healthy meal. Today I had fun. Today I got wasted. Today I got laid. Today I had a job interview. Today I got a job. Today I got fired. Today I met the love of my life. Today I kissed a girl. Today I learned something new. Today I became an astronaut.
The Today Project is an online program that allows its users to say one thing—and one thing only—about their day. Every day, people get to write one thing down that completes this sentence: Today I_____. It’s easy, a downloadable app, free for the first year. (People get addicted and buy the $3.99 version for the next year.) The program reminds them three times a day to fill in the blank. They can set the times the times for themselves (unless they leave the default settings, which are 9 a.m., 1 p.m., and 8 p.m., and which, according to our beta testers, were the most common reminder times that people wanted to program in). And they do. People who sign up have a surprisingly high consistency rate. It’s amazing. Our stats guy says we are accessed by over 90% of users every day. He’s always sending emails about it. We’re one of the most successful apps in terms of daily use. But that’s the whole point of the Today Project, we tried to tell him. He rolled his eyes and told us that it doesn’t matter what the point of something is. What matters is whether people get the point. And we told him that it doesn’t matter whether people get the point. What matters is what they do, whether they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.
Today I got the point. Today I got the hint. Today I understood. Today I got it. Today my wife told me she wants a divorce. Today my son was born. Today my child died. Today I found out I have cancer. Today I had my first radiation treatment. Today I took my first chemo pills.
According to my metrics guy, the one who configured the algorithm that is the real and final point of the Today Project (which is to assign the words people write with positive, negative, or neutral values and also to pick out the most meaningful days according to how long the person spent keying in the words—plus we also measure whether they erased things before submitting their final entry), most people write in the past tense. Something that already happened. They don’t often talk about what’s going on at that moment. They don’t often talk about what is going to happen to them. Maybe it’s superstition, which would make sense, because our users skew towards both the 18-35 audience (who, though prone to feelings of immortality, are actually also prone to fears of death) and the over-50 audience (for whom death is nearer and who use mobile applications more than young people like to admit until they meet up with someone who lied about their age on Grindr or Tinder). Or maybe it’s simply because people don’t know what is important about their todays until they’ve already todayed it. We don’t have enough metrics yet; the Today Project has only existed for three years, and while that is plenty of time to gather some data, it is not enough time to answer the big, core questions, such as why users write in the past tense.
Today I will be strong. Today I will go to my first therapy appointment. Today I go to jail. Today I will be arrested. Today I will bring a gun to school. Today will be the happiest day of my life. Today I will get married. Today I will tell my boss to go fuck herself. Today I will be kind. Today I will be an asshole because it's just that kind of day. Today I will try to talk to someone. Today I will get out of bed. Today I will go shopping. Today I will see my birth mother for the first time in my life. Today I will finally kill myself.
We did take into consideration those entries about the future because there are so few—only 12%. We contacted our guy at the NSA and they sent us a developer who was an expert at programming which keywords needed to raise red flags in the system. Now we have guys who monitor those flags, which are designed to catch things like suicide attempts, threats to others, and suspicious terrorist activity. We like to boast about that to our investors, most of whom are conservative, and who like the Today Project because many people who are religious use it as a kind of testimonial, a prayer, which is how we pitched it to the investors in the first place and how they took it and still take it. They are not worried about our cooperation with the NSA and they are not worried about anyone’s privacy. We are protecting our country. They continue to invest, because they know that we will sell the company when we get a good offer. We are waiting for one of the big three: F, G, or T. It is only a matter of time.
Today I wait to get bought. Today I wait for an offer. Today I wait for more money. Today I look at my stats. Today I hope I will get an offer. Today the NSA developer contacted me. Today I met with my board. Today I looked at “Today I_____s” for four hours. Today I didn’t watch porn. Today I got a phone call. Today I got another phone call. Today I got a phone call from my mother. Today I will talk to the board. Today I am happy. Today I am happy. Today I am happy. Today I am rich.
Ilana Masad is a queer Israeli-American fiction writer and book critic. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, McSweeney's, Joyland, StoryQuarterly, the Washington Post, the Guardian, LA Times, and more. She is the founder and host of The Other Stories, a podcast featuring new, emerging, and established fiction writers.