Would Thoreau Have Social Media?
Henry David Thoreau’s Instagram would probably be very beautiful if he had one. In his work “Walking” he admits to taking around 4 hour walks every day. I’m sure if we got a smartphone in his hand he could come up with some gorgeous images, but would he even take pictures on his walks?
Social media is a huge part of our society. Everyone, even young children, seem to have smartphones. We use them more than just communicating with others. We use them to store memories and to create spaces to publish our thoughts and beliefs. Social media has become more than just a tool to share what your dog looks like but to share knowledge on national and global issues that need attention called to them. A key reason why so many people voted in this election was due to the influence of social media on us.
Henry David Thoreau is such an interesting character in our country’s history because he was politically very active and was certainly not afraid to stand up for the injustices in our country, but he also found a lot of solace in the “hermit” lifestyle. It is interesting to think about how our historic writers would view and interact with our lifestyles today.
Today, to be politically active you have to be involved in social media. The social media platform is a key space to share information and ideas. The reach that social media has to many generations is unlike what we have seen in our history. Politicians have to be involved in social media, and Thoreau would like this. He was very involved in injustices such as slavery and women’s rights. He had a strong political voice and was not afraid to use it. He was very invested in other people and their desert of rights. For someone who lived by himself in a cabin in the woods, you would not expect this attitude. For example, he had no problem going to jail in the face of injustice as discussed in “The Thoreau Problem” by Rebecca Solnit:
“If he went to jail to demonstrate his commitment to the freedom of others, he went to the berries to exercise his own recovered freedom, the liberty to do whatever he wished, and the evidence in all his writing is that he very often wished to pick berries.”
Both of his “sides” come together in this sense, equating jail time to picking berries. He is doing what he wants to do, and what he wants to do is stand up for people and also spend time in nature.
I think that because of his political involvement, he would enjoy seeing everyone’s voice on a platform that is so accessible. In this case, I think that Thoreau would have all of the apps and would be an avid user of them, especially Twitter (think about the fiery replies he would have had to Donald Trump’s tweets).
On the other side, Thoreau took long therapeutic walks in nature and genuinely just wanted to spend time with his surroundings, uninterrupted by civilization. He loved the “wildness” of nature and spoke that it should not be tamed, We should learn from this “wildness” as we are a part of it. As the introduction to “Walking” by Thoreau states:
“I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute Freedom and Wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil,—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make an emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization: the minister and the school committee and every one of you will take care of that.”
He understood the importance of learning how to be alone with your thoughts is incredibly beneficial to your wellbeing and outlook on the world. Social media and the use of smartphones today never really allows anyone to be fully alone. There is always something on the internet you can be a part of or engage in every second– never allowing you to be alone. If Thoreau had this perspective only, I think that Henry David Thoreau would just have an emergency track phone that he would quite literally only use for emergencies.
Combining the two “sides” of Thoreau into how a man of this society would act, I think that Thoreau would have social media. I’m not sure that he would have every app and I doubt he would take pictures on his walks, but he wanted people to learn about nature and to learn about the world they are living in– and to do that today, you need to be a part of the platform that has that sort of reach.