Facebook versus Walden

Walden is one of the great American books on nature and American society. Friends and longtime readers know I like it and much of its message. It criticizes the pick-a-little-talk-a-little-cheep-cheep-cheep-talk-a-lot-pick-a-little-more gossip-about-your-neighbor culture in favor of simplicity and appreciating nature.
Facebook is in the news a lot. The opening sentences to Walden made me think about Facebook and the values spending time on it promotes.

When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again.

Contrast these qualities and values

  • writing a full-length book
  • living alone
  • a mile from anyone
  • working physically

with those typical of Facebook interactions

  • writing a couple hundred characters
  • communicating with thousands of people at once
  • physically interacting with no one
  • not working physically

As always, I don’t consider either way better or worse than the other, but I find the contrast interesting. I find my life alternates between modes — sometimes daily, hourly, yearly.
Over the course of my life, though, I tend to move toward Walden’s simplicity, independence, introspective, and serenity over the multitasking, hey-look-at-me, stalking busy-ness of Facebook. Facebook mode pulls me toward it. If I don’t pay attention I get drawn it. Walden requires discipline. I have to pay attention to stay there.
Facebook mode makes me feel busy in the moment, though looking back I don’t feel like I got anything done. Walden doesn’t make me feel busy in the moment. When I look back I feel like I lived life purposefully, meaningfully, and according to my values.

I should not obtrude [I had to look it up: to force or impose (as oneself or one’s ideas) without warrant or request] my affairs so much on the notice of my readers if very particular inquiries had not been made by my townsmen concerning my mode of life, which some would call impertinent, though they do not appear to me at all impertinent, but, considering the circumstances, very natural and pertinent. Some have asked what I got to eat; if I did not feel lonesome; if I was not afraid; and the like.

In other words, people seem to like to get in each other’s business. Again, it takes discipline to resist and lead your own life.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. “In other words, people seem to like to get in each other’s business. Again, it takes discipline to resist and lead your own life.”
    This is amazing thought!!! There is a parallel in Finance. Alpha is disappearing as things are becoming more and more transparent and everyone is doing the same thing and all investments converge on Beta. The result is that there is increasing pressure on the 2/20 pricing model. Is Social Media doing the same thing to society what it does to the markets? What is squeezed out as a result?

    1. Joshua

      The parallel applies all over in life.
      I won’t speculate on how social media is affecting society, but I keep in mind what I want in my life.
      I don’t think social media is changing things, though, because Thoreau talked about the same problems back then. The knick-knack things that got in the way of enjoying life back then get in the way now, only through the internet. The same things probably happen in all cultures and time and the same things get you out of them.

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