"I went into the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life... to put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived"
- Robin Williams quoting Thoreau from "Walden" in the "Dead Poet's Society"
In the age of all out device immersion of which I am a particularly prim poster child, Henry David Thoreau's 1854 novel Walden feels strange if not necessarily anachronistic. While Walden is a celebration of simpler life in natural surroundings, ours our complex lives in artificial surroundings. He celebrated independence, we find joy in our electronic tethers. Walden is essentially an abnegation of technology, or at least its enslaving, belittling grip. In Walden, Thoreau writes famously - "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation" but its what he writes next that tickled me the most - "What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."
I've always felt like I was a minimalist. I've always wanted to live a lean life. I've wanted to posses very few material things. I've always frowned upon excess. I've longed for stark walls, empty spaces and silence. I've aspired to be a minimalist. I am a "wannabe" minimalist.
Unfortunately, my actual life is quite the opposite of that noble aspiration. I am buried under stuff. Physical, intellectual and emotional. I am Andre's prisoner with his own key. I am everything Walden mocks.
And yet, I read it partly as an ebook and partly as an audio book. I "read" it while running, while commuting on a train and in my bed on my iPhone desperately trying to get some sleep. I read it in a rush, as and when I could. Without technology there was very little chance that I could've enjoyed Walden. Its technology that makes an 1854 book accessible on your phone. It is also technology that makes you long for the simplicity and raw nature celebrated by Walden.
It is technology that beams the "Dead Poet's Society" in our homes that celebrates the famous quote from Walden listed at the beginning of this post that Robin Williams gave new life to after nearly 140 years.
And yet, I long for a minimal existence, perhaps a wish that isn't different from any wish for whatever is out of reach, the forbidden.
Take some time to read Walden. It is often invigorating. It will help you appreciate a lot of things not least of which are what Thoreau denigrates but also what he celebrates. We need it all.
We, the prisoners of our own devices, quietly staring at our confirmed desperations.