Thursday, 16 August 2007
Thoreau Gets Into the IT Debate
There's an interesting article over at the incomparable ReadySteadyBook site by Alan Wall on the future of the book. It has attracted some interesting discussion. If the technophobes sometimes sound a bit reactionary the technophiles on their side are sometimes uncritical in their adulation. It pays, pace McLuhan, to think about ends as well as means. I am currently reading Henry David Thoreau's 1854 American classic, Walden, about the life of self-sufficiency in the woods "on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts". Discoursing on "modern improvements", by which he probably meant the Atlantic telegraph rather than text-messaging, he wrote: "Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an improved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York." A valuable thought which put simply is: let's judge things by how useful they are rather than just by the fact that they are here.