Passages on which to Focus: Examining Thoreau's Critique of Technology in Walden

From "Economy":

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

As with our colleges, so with a hundred "modern improvements"; there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance. . . . Our inventions are wont* to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, and end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. . . . As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly. . . .

One says to me, "I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country." But I am wiser than that. I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot. I say to my friend, Suppose we try who will get there first. The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents. That is almost a day's wages. . . . Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; . . . You will in the mean while have earned your fare, and arrive there some time tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season. Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day. And so, if the railroad reached round the world, I think that I should keep ahead of you; and as for seeing the country and getting experience of that kind, I should have to cut your acquaintance** altogether.

. . . . No doubt they can ride at last who shall have earned their fare, that is, if they survive so long, butt hey will probably have lost all their elasticity and desire to travel by that time. This [is the] spending of the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty druing the least valuable part of it . . . .


* are accustomed to be, are typically. Back

** that is, I won't even be able to talk to you, I'll know so much more. Back