When Thoreau talks about old people, he says they have no valuable information to pass on to the younger generation: “They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me any thing, to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me…” As much as I agree with his view, I also disagree. When we are born, old people give us as much knowledge as possible so by the time we go to school and are educated, we know more than they do, because we have learned everything they taught us, and then some. However, old people have gone through most of life at this point and, let’s say he is talking about retired people, they either regret their course because they have worked their whole life and never appreciated anything, or they are happy with what they’ve done and have a big family or something. however, people have different values, and just because someone is old and happy with their lives, does not mean that somebody younger will find happiness from doing the same thing. listening to what older people have to say is somewhat like studying the humanities; it is a story of how another person lived. However, young people have their whole lives ahead of them and have yet to choose their path. So when Thoreau says, “I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors”, he means that he will find out what brings him happiness on his own, and their stories may go against what he believes in.
Thoreau speaks of pain being the reward for his labor, a premise that would sound horrible to anyone reading this today. But looking deeper, a man who has his work barely published, in a journal with small circulation, that man gets experience and a push to improve. Today, we have such a desire for instant gratification that most people who found themselves in a situation like this would get fed up. Thoreau seemingly praises the benefits of hard work, even without the promise of reward. Hard work and improvement is the reward, and you can tell how Thoreau is grateful for the experience and improvements it led to.
One of the strict business habits Thoreau describes, and wishes to develop is to learn and take advantage of all the new technology in relation to expeditions and navigation. What I found most intriguing about this passage is his vivid description of his personal concept of “business habits,” and everything that might encompass the world of business. He seems to describe business, not just solely for the purpose of monopoly and financial gain, but rather as an area of study representing a whole new world of learning and serving as a gateway for new inventions and improvements.
Ultimately, Thoreau is referring to the doubts that individuals share in terms of the advancement of technology and communication. He explains how these inventions serve as “improved means to an unimproved end.” Why are humans so eager to build inventions that connect opposite ends of the world together, and foster instantaneous communication? Do we need all of these inventions, and are they imperative to humanity and our every day lives? Thoreau seems to hint that the concerns critics of technology share is that the idea and sensibility behind humanity is lost in the wake of the creation of these inventions.
Thoreau seems to be speaking remorsefully about the views society continues to have on work. We are expected to work hard through most of our life and only truly living it many years down the line. Thoreau’s line, “but I wish, as you are brothers of mine, that you could have spent your time better than digging in this dirt,” is a direct reference to his desire that people experience and live life, not just kill themselves slowly living, working, for the sake of others instead of themselves. This mindset of working most of your life and retiring in older age still exists today and is a point of remorse for many that would probably agree with a lot of what Thoreau stated in this section, outside of this paragraph. That being said, Thoreau doesn’t think it is the worst thing to work, stating that the workers “might have done worse…” but you cannot escape the melancholy and regret in Thoreau’s writing at the state of the workforce spending most of their lives trapped by work that only brings them closer to death instead of living.
Thoreau speaks well on the advancements of methods of communication in his time without the benefit of advancing that which is to be communicated. Certainly, he gets this point across well: What if there is indeed naught to say betwixt Texas and Maine? But, of course, just because one has nothing to say does not mean that such channels are devoid of words and words and words. Not unlike social media today, it is simply a flush of content that most often has no meaning behind it, no value. Indeed, most humans have nothing of import to say at most times. And yet, we speak anyway, to some extent under the allusion that we are saying something rather than just exercising our vocal cords, and to some extent because the ability to communicate constantly has made us afraid of silence. There is so much that is communicated today and so much that is received that even the few things of true import are lost and devalued in the storm.
A pair of quotes from Kurt Vonnegut come to mind. First, to the basis of Thoreau’s point: “Who is more to be pitied, the writer who is bound and gagged by policemen or the one living in perfect freedom who has nothing to say?” And, form my favourite Vonnegut novel, Cat’s Cradle, which I think aptly summarizes social media and indeed much of the Information Age: “People have to talk about something just to keep their voice boxes in working order so they’ll have good voice boxes in case there’s ever anything really meaningful to say.”
February 17, 2020 at 12:41 pm
Posted in: ENGL 340 S20 Geneseo
When it comes to communication on this campus there is not a positive or informational impact from the administration aspect. When anything related to campus news comes out for the campus, everything goes haywire. For example, bringing communiation and knowledge about the library this semester has not had a positive impact on this campus. Overall, our enrollment rate is decreasing and our transfer out rate is increasing because the information about a possible renovation was not given to us.
The open forum where we were able to communicate our issues was not helpful, since the communication from administration was not thought out, and really just beat around the bush with certain issues. I think if administration tried to get more information from how students actually feel on campus about issues, we would easily be able to start a positive impact on our communication as a campus and a community.
See in context
February 17, 2020 at 12:27 pm
“Nations are possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave. What if equal pains were taken to smooth and polish their manners? One piece of good sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon.”
The way in which nations ‘perpetuate memories’ of themselves has been a concern before Thoreau wrote about it, and is still a concern in American society today. A glorious (but dishonest, and biased) American history may be analogous to the ‘hammered stone’ Thoreau talks about here. Americans take such pain to ensure the collective American memory is a positive one, rather than focusing on the reality of the American experience, which belies this rose-tinted memory. One of the many reasons “Make America Great Again” fails is because America was never objectively great, except perhaps to those working so hard to perpetuate (and create) false memories. The information we choose to preserve and the information we choose to erase (or, with a note of concern, information that is unethically erased) impacts the memory of our nation, so it’s important that we remain aware of this and alert to attempts to censor or stifle the spread of information– and whether that information is truly accurate and indicative of the nation it stands for.
February 17, 2020 at 12:18 pm
Thoreau discusses how he enjoys his endless view of nature, his unobstructed horizon. As technology has progressed and there has been more development, it has become more uncommon in our modern world to find such an unobstructed horizon. When someone does, it is something to be treasured — like when you enjoy the view from the top of a mountain. Glieck describes that as “telegraph towers spread across Europe and beyond,” people were “struck by the towers’ height and by their beauty” (134-5). While many enjoyed the convenience of the unprecedented speed of communication the telegraph offered over distance, few were bothered by the cluttering of the earth’s surface they caused. Some admirers may describe these towers as beautiful, but how beautiful does one find a power poles throughout our own streets that are increasingly becoming replaced with underground systems? Development requires space. It complicates things while offering more convenience. As our world has become so cluttered and noisy with all the technology we have in our lives, we appreciate the simple beauty of the natural world less and less.
February 17, 2020 at 12:08 pm
February 17, 2020 at 12:02 pm
Posted in: General Discussion
February 17, 2020 at 11:41 am
When reading Walden, I believe most people believe these economical digressions the least enlightening part of Thoreau’s discourse on nature, modernity, and how to live on the land as we have grown alienated from the land. But I actually find these sections important, not on their own, but in total. The two important takeaways I gain from these digressions is the reminder that living this way is doable, and the contribution to the taxonomy of Thoreau’s authentic living. The first is noteworthy, but needs little explanation. The second deserves more attention. As we exist in the technological world, we have little need for a taxonomy of that kind of life; we already know it. But by Thoreau painstakingly laying out every detail (in this case, what he ate), he is showing us how we can live. This ‘how’ is the necessary addition to the ‘why.’ The how keeps us grounded while Thoreau responds on why we should live this way. This grandly relates back to our trials in modern life as well, for Thoreau offers us a framework for self-reliance that is well-worn by time, but still repairable for us. I also believe that this painstaking taxonomy is important to us now simply due to the marked rate of consumption that is now prevalent in our lives. By creating a list, we may all be able to more honestly reflect on what is important. Such as this, the how once again guides us when attempting to ask why.
February 17, 2020 at 9:36 am
In this particular paragraph, Thoreau mentions the creation of the telegraph, stating that even though Maine and Texas have nothing important to communicate, society was, at one point, in great haste to construct a machine that would allow them to do so. This reminds me of Chapter Five in Gleick, mainly because this is where Gleick writes about the creation of the telegraph.
Gleick talks about how fortunes could be made by creating the telegraph. It would bridge the gap between two separate places. It brought about the phenomenon of fast information from a distance, and this excited people. Thoreau believes, however that fast information is worthless when one is not talking sensibly.
This really makes me wonder about how Thoreau would react to the technology we have nowadays. Phones and computers are even more advanced than the telegraph, and communication is so accessible that many conversations had over text are generally pointless. It’s definitely an interesting thought.
February 17, 2020 at 8:53 am
February 17, 2020 at 12:16 am
In this passage, I find Thoreau’s use of the word “savage” interesting, as it does not seem to be being used with the usual negative connotation that is typically attached to this word (especially looking back on older texts from today’s world). In praising other societies’ customs (e.g., of celebrating harvests), Thoreau mentions that his own society could gain something from other cultures.
This casting away of ego-centrism is a concept that is echoed in Chapter 1 of Gleick’s The Information: “These Europeans spoke of the ‘native mind’ and described Africans as ‘primitive’ and ‘animistic’ and nonetheless came to see that they had achieved an ancient dream of every human culture.”
As Thoreau adopts a minimalistic lifestyle detached from modern civilization, and explores other ways of living such as those common to non-Western cultures, the effect is that the language Thoreau uses also seems to change; it is almost as if he takes ownership of the word “savage,” giving it a more positive connotation as he empathetically gains respect for other cultures’ ways.
February 16, 2020 at 11:49 pm
This passage was intriguing to me as it made me consider just how little it takes to get by, and even be satisfied as Thoreau says he was. It shows that living simply is not something that always needs to be seen as a negative thing. People in today’s society waste so much food as well as other luxuries that some countries don’t have at their disposal. Living a more simple life like Thoreau continues to encourage throughout his writing could also help humans to focus on the realities of life and issues that need fixing instead of being caught up in so many things that are essentially privileges to have. The same goes for technology. It would be entirely possible to get by without it, but it would make life much less convenient. I think Thoreau wants readers to consider what they take for granted and how they can change their lifestyles and perspectives even in any small ways possible, in order to contribute to the making of a greater society no matter where it might be.
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