If you have read Walden, then the thought of Henry David Thoreau’s pensive seclusion in his beloved forest would perhaps convince you to throw away your idealistic values of print publishing and purchase an iPad in hopes ofsaving a few trees. But is Walden Thoreau’s way of telling Americans to appreciate the forest, or that which the forest allows them to achieve?
In The Paris Review Daily, writer Dannie Zarate contemplates the act of reading Walden on an iPad, perhaps the most realistic example of cognitive dissonance when it comes to the art of reading, I suppose. Walden is Thoreau’s classic profession of the need for simplicity in modern life, but we should ask ourselves how Thoreau would define simplicity. Would simplicity, in Thoreau’s terms, be found in earth-saving electronics, or the paper-pressed ways of the past?
By reading literature electronically, we are sparing forestry and, therefore, saving it for personal satisfaction, much like the satisfaction Thoreau experienced on his wooded respite; this seems to be the ultimate goal within the pages of Walden, a book whose intention is, after all, the furtherance of Thoreau’s message, not that of the book itself. Indeed, it is only a book. It has no metaphysical associations, unlike the nature of the story inside. Any spiritual or philosophical power retained within Walden is simply a product of Thoreau’s insight, not the yellowed pages, so couldn’t we do away with the nonsense of physical books and resort to an electronic reader?
I’m afraid not. Yes, it is just a book, its words are able to be absorbed as well electronically as they are on paper, but because it is just a book, because it is not holy and has no metaphysical means, we need the physical element of its actuality to make the experience whole. I believe Thoreau himself puts it best by explaining, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life… and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” We must live fully, deliberately, and what better way than to experience this message of our own physicality than through a physical book?
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