in Posts, Slow Media

Walden

Why should we live with such a hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry.

I have been reading Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. It was first published in 1854, but there are parts of it which are staggeringly relevant to the modern world. It is interesting that 165 years ago there were already people asking questions about the effects on news and information overload. It makes me wonder what Thoreau would have made of the world we live in today.

Hardly a man takes a half-hour’s nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, “What’s the news?” as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels.

After a night’s sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast.

What would Thoreau have thought about the habit many people have of reaching for their phone the moment they wake up? Or in the middle of the night? Is there really anything so important that we have to know about it the moment we open our eyes? Now we don’t even wait until breakfast to find out. We sit in our beds and scroll through news websites and social media feeds, allowing the news and other people to set the foundation of our day.

Petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of reality.

The nature of news now is darker than ever. We hear about all of the terrible things that are happening in the world and that is all we hear about. There is more to the world than that, but if we don’t know about it, if we just keep pumping ourselves full of negativity, then it must have some effect on how we perceive reality. How much worse must that be now when we have access to constantly updating news websites, Facebook and Twitter, than 165 years ago when all they had was a daily paper?

Fortunately, Thoreau has some advice that could be understood as what we now think of as a Digital Sabbatical:

Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.

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