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Our discussion regarding Henry David Thoreau on Tuesday really sparked my interest. I have a little background on the book as I have read some chapters in high school. However as I was reading a second time around and as our discussion reflected, there are so many things that I did not pick up on the first time around. It is kind of like watching a movie and then re-watching it and picking up on the smaller details that you neglected to see the first time watching the movie. This, of course, has a lot to do with the fact that I was younger when reading “Walden” for the first time and now as I sit reading it a second time I have many more experiences and things to relate it to than I did just a few years ago reading it as a naive senior in high school.
I thought it was really interesting while reading about and throughout our discussion of Thoreau’s experiment, as he calls it. I think we, as Americans, take a lot of things for granted and are stuck in the mindset of having the best and the biggest when it comes to anything. The fact that Thoreau, although college educated and coming from a pretty wealthy family, decides to live with the bare minimum in the middle of the woods near Walden pond in everything short of a big, extravagant house. This also allowed me to ponder for a second because last semester I had the opportunity to study abroad in Toledo, Spain. My host Mom shared with me some stereotypes she had of Americans, and this seemed to be one of them. In much of Europe and specifically in Spain, the people there live in apartments, even those who have families and drive small cars. While I was abroad as well as now it just gets me to thinking, do we really need to live in huge houses when we only have a family of four, and do we really need to drive that big SUV? This also goes back to the point that Dr. Cordell brought up in class. Before purchasing something figure out if it is really worth it for the amount that it costs to purchase the item. I guess this thought as always been in the back of my mind, and I like to think of myself as not that frugal, but I think I will try to be aware more often now of what I am buying, how much it is worth and if it is really worth it in the first place. All in all, I believe that Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” was relevant back in the 1850s and still is today in the twenty-first century.
In the first chapter Thoreau gives a sort of outline of his experiment at Waldon Pond. This first chapter really opened up my eyes and made me realize how heavily we depend on the things we use everyday. Thoreau’s experiment seems weird to us but it may not have been that out of the ordinary back then. If the average author today was to do a similar experiment I am not sure they would survive without some sort of training. By taking himself out everyday life and removing all the distractions around him Thoreau was able to take a closer look at life. Thoreau says the only things we need to life are food, shelter, clothing, and fuel. One could argue that the latter two are not necessary to live but rather necessary to live comfortably. I believe what Thoreau is trying to make people realize is that we believe we need things in our lives that really are not necessary.
Thinking about what people had then and what people have now I feel like people focus way to much on the things that are not essential. Because of how much technology has progressed in the past couple hundred years we are able to have all kinds of things people in the 19th century would have never dreamed of. The problem with having so many nice things is we take a lot of it for granted. We spend most of our lives doing things that are not essential for life and fail to be thankful for the things that we actually need. I believe we could all learn a lot by giving up the non essential things for a day or two and concentrating on the things we actually need like Thoreau did at Walden Pond. I do not think we all need to march off in to the woods and try living off the land and building our own cabins because we probably would not all make it, but to give up electronics would not kill us.
After reading the first chapter of Thoreau’s “Walden” I had a lot on my mind about economics that I wasn’t used to. Being an economics major, I was actually excited to read Thoreau’s chapter to see if it conflicted with modern economics thought that is mainly derived from Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”. The first passage I noted that really drew on my economics education was the quote: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to leave alone.” Thoreau is using the word “rich” as spiritually or intellectually rich. In the economy today, rich would be defined as having a house, a car, and hopefully a 401K retirement plan that will allow you to retire in your late sixties. Thoreau is clearly against the accumulation of monetary wealth as what really makes one “rich”. In my mind, this makes Thoreau more of a philosopher than an economist, which he is.
Compared with Thoreau’s ideas, modern economic thought and capitalism state that workers are incentivized to gather monetary wealth and consume more goods as they move up in social class. These ideas are macroeconomic views and aim to generalize every person into a system rather than as an individual. Thoreau’s views on economics were not macroeconomic thoughts, but microeconomic thoughts that were much different than what is thought today. Thoreau focuses on the individual and says that men should become rich by focusing on reading and intellectual advancement and by no means should they measure wealth by the amount of goods they can amass.
Thoreau does touch on a key economic concept that is accepted, opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is the next best alternative that is given up when a person chooses an option. For example, since I chose to write this blog post, I am giving up eating dinner with my roommates. Thoreau encompasses this by using the train example to show opportunity cost. One can either work a few days in order to pay for a train ticket or walk those days and not have to work those days to afford the ticket. This is not exactly opportunity cost but it brought some interesting thoughts to the front of my mind. I wondered if society would be better off if Thoreau’s train of economic/philosophical thought influenced society more than Adam Smith’s thoughts. Society may have never reached capitalism and society may value wisdom and knowledge more than material goods. Maybe then we could “learn what [life] has to teach, and not, when [we] come to die, discover that [we] had not lived”.
These past few weeks, the Wind Ensemble that I play flute in has been rehearsing and performing”Walden” in the Winter BandFest Concert. Our director described it as a “very American sounding piece. You can imagine what it is about because of its title, ‘Walden’.” Since I had never read Walden before this class, I had no idea what or who he was referring to. I thought to myself, “Well, this does sound like an American piece…but who in the world is Walden?” When we starting reading “Walden” in our class, I made the connection. While playing and/or listening to the piece, we should’ve been imagining something relating to a very basic, natural, American life. The mystery had been solved! Here is a video of our performance, compliments of YouTube.
I was also pleased that the connection between “Walden” and “Into the Wild” was pointed out in class. I’ve never read the book, but have seen the movie version of “Into the Wild.” Like Dr. Cordell said, the “Into the Wild” story is a perfect example of how ideas can sometimes be misinterpreted. The main character, Christopher McCandless, didn’t understand that Thoreau’s experience in the wild was simply a two year experiment (and a well planned out-experiment). Chris took his writings as how you should live your whole life, which lead to his tragic end. I think that Thoreau intended for his ideas from “Walden” to be contemplated and maybe applied to daily life in society, not for someone else to live the way that he did for two years.
Taking these different references to “Walden” into considerations, it seems like it’s a good book to at least be exposed to. It makes us think about how we live our daily lives, and how we could/should change them. Did anyone else want to go explore nature after reading the first few chapter? I certainly did. I really had the urge to go hiking somewhere.
On another note, I’m still trying to figure out the practicality of Twitter. One of the practical uses that I’ve seen is advertising, whether it be for their own blogs or events that they want to support. Chris Watson recently tweeted about an Adopt-a-book program at The Portico Library. “http://www.theportico.org.uk/Support_us.html
@ThePortico Adopt-a-book and receive a dedicated page in the book!” This seemed like an excellent way to raise funding to preserve books, while also involving the public. This related to one topic that is continuous in our class: sustainability. We think of books as being “hard copies,” but even they are not completely safe from time. They still become degraded with use, and have to be used carefully. This could become a philosophical debate…is anything truly long-lasting and sustainable? Does information from the past need to be sustained for thousands upon thousands of years? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but they are interesting to think about.
I enjoyed a lot our class discussion on Tuesday.
First of all, I can say that I admire Thoreau and his thoughts. Not everyone will be able to go away from habitual life and become a farmer. I see this act as the statement of personal independence.
Thoreau also pointed out that he was very productive during his “exile”.I feel like the routine of everyday life lowers our productivity. My uncle went did something like Thoreau. Two years ago, he left the city and decided to live in the country area, almost like a village. He just took a time-out from his business. According to him, this experience gave him a chance to think about essential values in life. According to him, his productivity increased at that time; he had a time to think about his business and created a new strategy for his company.
May be sometimes, each of us needs this kind of experience – think about everything carefully and start fresh?
Thoreau’s idea of cost made me think about the film “In Time” with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. According to Thoreau, cost is the amount of time it takes us to earn money. If you saw the film “In Time” you remember that people payed their lifetime in order to buy something. This “living time” basically replaced money; time became a currency.
So… do we have to see things we want to buy as the amount of time required to work in order to get it?
Oh, here is the trailer if you did not watch the movie:
Through following some of the scholars of the digital humanities on twitter, I came across some articles this past week that helped me further my understand of the topics we study in class. Both articles discussed technology’s impact on the humanities.
It best fit with the discussion of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and our discussion of copyright and ownership and the difficultly that occurred in the 19th century for authors such as Stowe. It also fit with our discussion of Walden and his thoughts on possessions and what that really means and their costs. The various articles helped to show me that some of the same issues authors in the 19th century dealt with are still concepts we struggle with today.
An article twetted, “iPass away – do my digital downloads die with me?” revealed that while technology evolves, our laws and ideas about it don’t always keep pace. For years our society and legal system has dealt with what happens to an individual’s possessions after they pass away. Because of the nature of books, DVDs, and records as physical objects, that is the line along which the system has evolved. When dealing with digital copies of books, there is still gray area. Companies such as Amazon, and iTunes have struggled to define what the license means when you buy a song or book. It seems to appear that it is not transferable upon death, differing from physical copies. The licenses have been interpreted by lawyers to mean more of renting or use privileges rather than ownership. The implications of this are not fully clear. An individual is able to pass on something such as a iPad/iPod/Kindle, but what, in terms of content, is passed on?
The next article, “Journalism Jobs Robo-Sourced” discusses the switch from print to online journalism to something new. A company from Illinois called Narrative Science developed some algorithms and software to somewhat try and replace journalists. Often articles discussing real estate, finance, sports, and polling are data or stat heavy. This company uses their algorithms and software to “crunch” data into articles. Here is an example:
“Newt Gingrich received the largest increase in tweets about him today. Twitter activity associated with the candidate has shot up since yesterday, with most users tweeting about taxes and character issues. Newt Gingrich has been consistently popular on Twitter, as he has been the top riser on the site for the last four days. Conversely, the number of tweets about Ron Paul has dropped in the past 24 hours. Another traffic loser was Rick Santorum, who has also seen tweets about him fall off a bit.”
The company “humanized” that short article by injecting various concepts and catchphrases into the software to help the articles flow. Some of those concepts include the software analyzing the most important element of the data and putting that as the articles first paragraph. For many, this idea is scary, and for other they see as the solution for journalist’s pain with creating certain tedious articles. Some of those articles include stat heavy sports and politics articles. This was named as one of the top 25 ideas for 2012 by Wired.
These articles help to show the continuous process of technology and the impact on things such as books and journalism. It shows often as fast as problems become solved by technology, new problem can arise through technology. As Stowe’s society and legal systems were confused with newly increased international trade and its impact, our society is still sorting out new technology’s impact on our society and legal system.
Halverson, N. (2012, February 21). Journalism Jobs Robo-Sourced. Discovery News. Retrieved February 21, 2012, from http://news.discovery.com/tech/future-journalism-project-120221.html
Parris, R. (2012, February 20). Can you pass on your downloads after you die?. Which? Conversation. Retrieved February 21, 2012, from http://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/digital-download-legal-rights-after-death-amazon-itunes-apple/
One of my favorite movies is Into The Wild. I couldn’t help but think of the film while reading Thoreau. I know Christopher McCandless was inspired by his writings and I thought it would be fun to share some of the comparisons I made! For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, here’s the trailer…
Thoreau -He has no time to be anything but a machine.
Into the Wild- It should not be denied that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations. Absolute freedom. And the road has always led west.
Thoreau- But man’s capacities have never been measured; nor are we to judge of what he can do by any precedents, so little has been tried.
Into the Wild- The sea’s only gifts are harsh blows, and occasionally the chance to feel strong. Now I don’t know much about the sea, but I do know that that’s the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions. Facing the blind death stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.
Thoreau- We might try our lives by a thousand simple tests
Thoreau- How vigilant we are! determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it; all the day long on the alert, at night we unwillingly say our prayers and commit ourselves to uncertainties. So thoroughly and sincerely are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change.
Into the Wild- The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.
Thoreau- It was the natural yearning of that portion, any portion of our most primitive ancestor which still survived in us
Into the Wild- Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, ’cause “the West is the best.” And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild. – Alexander Supertramp May 1992
Thoreau- Shall we always study to obtain more of these things, and not sometimes to be content with less?
Into the Wild- I’m going to paraphrase Thoreau here… rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth.
As encouraged in class, I found my topic for blogging via Twitter this week; I found this link,
on Adeline Koh feed and it proved to be quite tangenital to our course. Not only was this blog post highly relative but it was also recently posted, yesterday. I was lucky to find this post because the fact that it was posted just yesterday highlights one of the great advantages of digital humanities, no lagging in news updates.
Now on to discussion of the blog, Ben Schmidt critiqued an Essay written by LD Burnett which Burnett wrote in reaction the “big event in DH in the last week–the announcement of the first issue of the ambitiously all-digital Journal of Digital Humanities.” The blog commented and discussed many of the issues we are and have been discussing in class, such as the pros and cons of making text digital, the acess digital text provides, how should we protect the writers ideas, etc. Schmidt comments on how Burnett’s essay examines the ”ambivalence about the digital humanities because it is too eager to reject books” as well as “the driving impetus behind quite a bit of digital humanities work is precisely the concern about unavailability and central control” of digital humanities’ publications.
This last quote made think deeper about the affect that an uncontroled digital environment could have on the authenticity of publsihing works. I am most familiar with the publications of biological reseach articles and the importance of the satisfaction of knowing that the work is yours, being able to do what you want with that work. If the researcher wants they can make it available to all or charge people to read it. This is where an uncontroled digtial humanites network could dinminish the work and the authors efforts. If anyone code and put things on the internet, the author essenailly looses their copy right.
Some thing I also found contigent to our course in this blog, was the discussion of the evolution of text from lithography, to printers, and now to digital on screen images; a relative quote from Schmidt, ”to fully understand the relationship between digital texts and physical printers is to approach the heart of the digital humanities.” I think this makes perfect sense is something we have touched on is class discussion but never really tackeld due to the depth of the issue.
And lastly Schmidt explains how, as we discussesd in lecture, certain concepts of paper writing is modified and carried through in its digital counterparts. Schmidt sums up the thought best through saying ”…a book you read on a screen is not the digital book itself, nor is it a digital copy of the book. It’s just another analog publication. A Kindle, say, does not replace a codex; it replaces a piece of paper. When we use screens, we are in some ways moving back in time, replacing the technology of the codex with that of the palimpsest. We have finally created a palimpsest that can be quickly filled and endlessly erased. ”
Please feel free to read this blog, it was easy to understand and not terribly lengthy. Hope you enjoy
For some reason, after reading the first three chapters of Walden, I really have an urge to go camping. I know that it’s nowhere near what Thoreau did, however I would be up for that as well (maybe not the whole two years part but definitely a good month or two). I find the “wilderness” very challenging and relaxing at the same time. The outdoors is a lot more free to do whatever you want, however, you can’t do nothing and expect to be fine. Growing up with a very outdoorsy family, we went on camping trips regularly. In fact, some of my best childhood memories are of sitting on the edge of a river/lake fishing hoping for dinner to come, sitting in a “shelter” my dad and I just made, or starting my own fire without using matches. The good ol’ days. So what’s the difference, why can’t I seem to just go camping and feel that way anymore. I think it’s because the advancement in technology. I think that whenever people go on family camping trips, they always pack a GPS or smartphone or some sort of device to help them in every aspect of camping. Bored? Ohh I’ll just send a text to my bff. Lost? Ohh let me quick look up where we are on my GPS. Don’t even get me started with motor homes!
Thoreau states that in ones life, there are four essential needs: food, shelter, clothing, and fuel. Thoreau proves this by starting his own “experiment” that entails going to live in the woods by himself. He builds a shelter to live in and farms for his food. Throughout the story, (so far), Thoreau has a very cocky attitude but seems to turn some of the pessimistic moods into optimistic situations. For example, the insulation on his house was not very good, instead of complaining he simply stated that it helped bring more fresh air into his house. I found it to be quite entertaining that he occasionally has his jabs at humor when he is living with next to nothing. Getting back to the point, I think life is more enjoyable when you have chosen to live with only the essentials. For some, Facebook and Twitter run their lives, however, if it wasn’t for people I met abroad and friends that I would like to keep in contact with who live around the world, I don’t even think I would have a Facebook.
I was deeply inspired by Aaron Day’s most recent blog post. My goal is not to copy Aaron’s post word for word, but rather hit on some points that he may not have hit on.
I have said several times before, I wish I had known about this field sooner. I am currently applying for Graduate Schools in the United Kingdom because they have all of the primary source documents I would need to work with to study the subject that I want, Pre-Revolutionary America. If the Digital Humanities were offered as a major my freshman year, I would have very likely considered it.
I am still constantly overwhelmed by amount of information, yet closeness of peers that DM brings. I am probably the only one who thinks this, but I felt like a kid going to Disney World when I walked through the Nobrertine Archives. In the four years I have been at this institution, this class is the first to even use technology to “beam in” a professional from another University.
Ben Schmidt’s article Second Epistle to the Intellectual Historians sums up beautifully what I have been trying to say the last several weeks.
”The current academic system is like the church in all its censoring, rigidly hierarchical glory, the digital field more resembles the chaos of the early church. And that’s as terrifying as it is empowering.”
The field itself is a self-aware force, and that is something that is very new. It is very rare that such a widespread movement be so (potentially) instrumental to the way that the world information is distributed, yet still not have any determinable “end plan”. Sure, there are feuds and rivalries in any community, but the love (and access of) knowledge is still what ties the DM world together. They are united under one single goal:
“DH is intensely, productively concerned with finding ways to keep gatekeepers from controlling access to texts.” – Ben Schmidt
Scholars can debate HOW to keep gatekeepers at bay, but that issue is one of personal preferences, which are frivolous in this particular field, where the actions of one help the story/journal/paper/poem of one carry on for future generations.
We already discussed William Blake and his poetry and illustrations. Blake is a prime example for my genuine awe of DM.
Blake was a man of many eras. While not recognized at the time, he is one of the major figures of the Romantic Age. In the span he was alive, we was able to clearly see the effects of the Industrial Revolution (which he writes about), the Age of Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the American Revolution. If we could talk to Blake today, I would deduce he would categorize his experience of that era with Schmidt’s words: Terrifying and Empowering.
The self-awareness of the Digital Humanities is something that should not be taken lightly.
Thoreau suggests : “To anticipate, not the sunrise and the dawn merely, but, if possible, Nature herself!” (Walden, Economy, 16.) I feel the same way of the Digital Humanities. While I am thrilled to live in an Internet Age, it is far too easy to become callous at trivial things like my phone not sending a text instantly. Like comedian Louis C.K. exclaimed “Give it a damn second. It’s going to space and back.”
DH is very much alive, very much self-aware, and very much as exited to clear the proverbial path for future. In another life I might have helped that cause. Maybe I still can. Time will tell.