Henry David Thoreau and I are now Facebook friends. How awesome is that? I even received a message from him. Well, okay, the message was from the person administering the Thoreau facebook page. Still, seeing his name and image in the corner of my screen, I couldn’t help but smile.
The moment screamed for a blog post, not just because it was fun, but also because it struck me as a little bit ridiculous. Henry David Thoreau, the man who “went to the woods to live deliberately” and “front only the essential facts of life” would abhor facebook. This is the man who famously urged, “Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!” Hard to imagine him scrolling down facebook posts on his smartphone instead of attending to the wonders around him.
But then, as I prepared to type this post, I began to wonder: Would Henry David Thoreau actually eschew Facebook if he were alive today, or would he be addicted? The opportunity for such a large platform might be hard to resist. And, even if he didn’t use Facebook, wouldn’t he want access to other internet resources? Freecycle, for example. What better place to find materials to build a cabin in the woods?
Perhaps, instead of toiling over his writing for years, with internet access Thoreau would have self-published early, set up a blogger site, gained a wide fan base, and saved himself a lot of frustration.
Think about all that lovely prose describing his life at Walden, his travels to Cape Cod, Katahdin, and the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Recall his wonderful descriptions of moments in nature both small and grand. He could have saved himself the trouble and used instagram to capture and send photos instead.
I have no doubt that Thoreau would have loved an e-reader. He read widely. Sanskrit in translation. The classics. His friends’ speeches and manuscripts. With a Kindle, he could have bypassed the Harvard library system entirely (and Harvard College tuition). Talk about a money saver!
Yes, with the Internet, Thoreau might have been a happier, more successful man.
In fact, instead of dying a bachelor, if he’d had wifi in the woods and an OKCupid subscription, I bet he’d have met a like-minded partner to shack up with. Sure, he claimed he “never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude,” but had the right vegan hemp-wearer given him a wink, the kind of girl (or boy) he couldn’t find in Concord, he might have changed his stance.
Thoreau was a trail blazer, advocating civil disobedience, speaking out for abolition of slavery, and sowing the seeds of the modern environmental movement. His writings have had an enduring impact, but just think how many more people he could have reached had he been able to harness the power of social media. Imagine a viral Youtube video of Thoreau in jail for refusing to pay his taxes. Visualize Walden, the reality TV series. In HD. Better yet, 3D.
Yes, in the modern age, the possibilities for sharing ideas and connecting with like-minded people would surely be irresistible, even to Thoreau. In fact, I bet he’d be so busy blogging about his musings, he’d hardly get any work done on his book projects.
Hmmmm . . . Sounds familiar.
- Read more about Thoreau’s ideals colliding with the modern world in my novel, Drowning Cactus. “A dangerous, smart, and stunning debut,” -Laura Van Den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth.
- Walden lover? Check out my post: My Dog’s Last Days and A Swim at Walden Pond.