Thoreau Technology Paper

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Professor King
Work, Leisure and Play

The Issue with Technology
As I currently write this paper, I’m multi-tasking at the same time by browsing through Facebook to keep track of my friend’s updates, checking my GroupWise email, responding to my latest text message on my iPhone and even watching TV on my recently purchased 32 inch Samsung LCD. I’ve become so consumed, so dependent on technology that my life would start to feel inconsequential without it. I’m not alone in this at all as it is society as a whole which has become so accustomed to technology and modern improvements that it can no longer thrive without them. This modern issue is exactly what writers like Emerson and Thoreau foresaw in their time.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing nearly two centuries ago, feared that, “The arts and technology of each era are only window dressing and do not give people life. [That] the harm of improved technology may balance out its good” (Self Reliance). For Emerson and many others in the 19th century, technology was constantly being replaced and thus provided no real meaning to us. Although, they recognized the benefits that certain inventions could provide, they felt the excitement technology provoked was counterproductive in the end as it only served as a distraction. Emerson’s friend Henry David Thoreau shared similar thoughts in his essay Walden. Thoreau, although fascinated by technology, saw a series of inventions like the loom, railroad and telegraph that would radically change the world as they made way for the Industrial Revolution. Because of this, Thoreau saw technology as a tool for the destruction of society. He felt that technology and modern improvements would eventually come to control us as we became consumed by them. What Thoreau was truly arguing was that we would become so dependent on technology that we would become distracted from more important questions of life. Unfortunately what Thoreau foresaw has become reality. Today’s society is more dependent on technology and continuous improvements than it ever was before and it will continue to become worse. As technology continues to play an ever increaseing role in our lives, we will reach a point where it will have such a controlling effect on our lives that society will become stagnant without it. Thoreau’s first critique of technology is first noted when he is discussing the issues with clothing and considers, “Perhaps we are led oftener by the love of novelty, and a regard for the opinions of men, in procuring it, than by a true utility” (Thoreau 17). Instead of wanting the newest gadget for an intended purpose or benefit, we desire the most up to date device simply because it is the newest or as way to impress our peers. We have become infatuated with wanting the newest features and deluded ourselves into believing that they are necessary for everyday life. Thoreau comments that, “Men think that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour…” (Thoreau 66). Similar to the society of Thoreau’s time, we think our iPhone must be able to record HD video, our MacBook must have the newest and quickest software and our television must be up to date with the latest LED technology. We never even question why we must have these unnecessary technologies and improvements as we become consumed by them. When Apple released the iPhone 4 last summer, I remember walking past the Apple store and seeing some of the so called “Apple fanatics” holding their iPhone 3GS phones in preparation for an upgrade. I admit the iPhone 4 looked much sharper and the front camera was a nice touch but the phone was only a slight improvement on the 3GS and it actually came with quite a few bugs. Regardless, millions of people mindlessly lined up to get the latest and most popular phone in anticipation of parading it around to their friends. There was no real benefit to upgrading their phones but people did...
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