Letter to Henry David Thoreau

Thoreau’s Walden inspires a new perspective


Natalie Naylor, Staff Writer

Dear Henry David Thoreau,

I cannot say that society as a whole has failed us–but I can hint at it. One of the hardest conceptualizations to make is the understanding of change with time. In theory, the history we do have is debated, mourned, and praised. Today, we are creating history, with some beautiful celebrations to be memorialized, but not to be followed without a trail of terror and disheartenment. Our society revolves around the newest innovation of mobile phones, the internet, and social media as a whole, which has inevitably become the hard drive of something human.

In an excerpt from Walden, your idea that “we do not ride the railroad, the railroad rides upon us” made me question. I went on my phone, looking to scroll aimlessly to distract myself from the thought of the meaning of a sentence that makes me truly uncomfortable to come to terms with. My natural instinct in its rawness is just the problem. Even in reading a literary masterpiece about your complex ideas on the simplicity of life, I could not handle the confrontation that though society constantly changes and innovates, it will not progress at the rate to which I contribute. This quote conveys a very apparent message: In looking for innovation to make the world better, we step over life’s natural beauty. Modern-day technology has negatively altered the fundamentals of humanity through the depletion of social connection, mental and physical health, and the future of society.

In your words, life is to be simple. I admire your perspective that appeals to the heart. On schedule, I wake up every morning at 6:20 AM to the sounds of automated trumpets. I scroll through my social media, looking for any source of meaning to a day I have repeated for the last month.

In the hallways, I stare at my phone, texting friends in classes across the courtyard because I don’t want to face crucial awkward interactions. In the most cliché way possible, our tiny phones pose the greatest wall that any president could build. They change the meaning of personification in a way that reverses its effects; instead of giving something non-human human-like traits, the technology overrides what it means to be human.

My life–and many others–are completely contradictory to your morals: We support an industry that seemed so revolutionary and beneficial, but in its dirty wrath, we all were oblivious to its destruction of society. As one of the first generations to develop this social pacifier of a phone, the effects are truly terrifying to describe. Instead of those awkward interactions, those smiles in the hallways, and those painful grocery shopping trips, a screen shields the emotional fluctuation we need, replaced by a consistent and comfortable place that can be accessed virtually anywhere.

Not to be unaccounted for, modern-day technology has arguably had the greatest impact on our mental and physical health. In a physical aspect, the addiction can’t be undermined–not like nicotine or alcohol, though on a completely different weight, they are still measurably detrimental. Instead of experiencing classic boredom, in which I would go play tag with a neighbor or dig in the dirt, there is access to any entertainment right in front of me. Whether it’s TV, texts, FaceTime, or social media, the crucial importance of being plainly bored and frankly figuring it out has been dismantled. The most frustrating piece of it all is that I understand it’s happening to me–and I let it–truly because my whole life has become centered around it.

Especially apparent in the present day, social media has taken over mental health issues exponentially. One of the hardest parts to conceptualize is that all we see as impressionable teens are curated facades of the best snippets of life. In your mindset, life is not linear, and having our whole personality and mood shaped around something that is not realistic could cause more damage than ever imagined.

Likewise, this makes me terrified for the future of humanity as a whole. I know–it does sound really dramatic, and I like to think of things as not that deep. But, sadly, it is that deep. This is not a threat to even terrifying things, like climate change or nuclear weapons, but rather the fundamentals of humanity. This root is not from a crazy dictator or a world war; rather, it is engraved in every single one of us.

The thing is, seeking discomfort is one of the hardest things a human can do. The technology we have implemented into everyday life is one of the biggest threats to world culture today and makes me question whether it will ever get better. While Apple created the iPhone, the world watched in awe, just as they did when Carnegie mass-produced steel or the first steamboat was created. It’s inevitable that society changes, but this day and age are different: Rather than a materialistic drive we control, technology controls us.

Whether it’s the government or the influencer with the most Instagram followers, we are all still human beings with beating hearts. This heart is now automatedly beating–in a world that fuels it. Change isn’t in the near future. We can not revolutionize, or overthrow a government, or travel to an undiscovered continent. The change has to come within each and every human being who has to alter everything they know completely.

If you were here today, your soul would feel no place to preach to such people. Everyone’s face would be lit up by a screen, programming how they think, feel, and act. No beautiful speech nor person they admire can change the way we function. Our souls have been changed and pierced by a chunk of metal that impacts everything. One cannot develop without raw emotions, whether it’s the lowest low or true happiness–the feeling cannot be automated. Similar to a parent who always packs their kid’s lunch or always lets their kids win a fight, the co-dependency of it all never allows for growth.

To feel challenged, to feel emotions, to figure things out–this is what life is about–or was about. This change cannot take place without breaking the system. One by one, maybe instead of scrolling through Instagram for an hour to procrastinate, I could walk the dog. I could go talk to my dad, call my grammy, or even touch grass for this sake.

But as I sit here writing on my computer, I feel nothing but anger that I am the problem. We are the problem. I was always scared of robots taking over the world, and now they are without even knowing it.