Thoreau And Jake Reilly

Yahoo Contributor Network ran an article/interview by Brad Sylvester entitled “Jake Reilly’s ‘Amish Project:’ 90 Days Without a Cell Phone, Email and Social Media College Student Drops Social Media, Reconnects with Romance” (noted on 1-30-12). Jake Reilly decides to try to live sans high tech communication for three months. He is very surprised by what he experiences as well as the outcome. This is relayed in an interview that comprises the bulk of the article.

Reilly’s experiment hearkens another great adventure in quitting the conventional, Henri D. Thoreau’s account of Walden. Some uncanny analogies and outcomes are hard to dismiss. True, Reilly’s experiment was within the social while Thoreau’s was ostensibly withdrawn from the social (probably why it did not reconnect with romance at the end though many claim that the entire venture was a romance!). Both did stay in touch and communicate with their fellows; Thoreau through his regular visits to Concord and Lincoln as well as his encounters with those he met near his house, Reilly with his bicycling to visit, and use of wall postings and chalk messaging. The most striking analogy is that both took the time to find out what is worthwhile, what is really worthwhile. Thoreau, with a very conscientious, almost critical methodology discovers that a quality life demands a mindful everyday. Reilly discovers that contemporary high tech communication results in mindless, numbing existence. The most fascinating telling by these two philosophical expeditions concerning the nature of quality, the worthwhile, is their conclusions regarding writing and language. Language, of course, is the very heart of high tech communication devices and social media while writing is presently in flux between the kind associated with the epic that Thoreau considers, the kind embodied in multi media presentations, and the kind used to produce the code that makes digital transmission possible. Thoreau writes: “for there is a memorable interval between the spoken and the written language, the language heard and the language read. The one is commonly transitory, a sound, a tongue, a dialect merely, almost brutish, and we learn it unconsciously, like the brutes, of our mothers. The other is the maturity and the experience of that; if that is our mother tongue, this is our father tongue, a reserved and select expression, too significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be born again in order to speak.” (Walden, chap. 3 “Reading”, third paragraph). In the transcribed interview Jake Reilly’s response to Brad Sylvester’s inquiry is “What we do now, on e-chat, is people just flying off with whatever comes to mind. It’s so much different to have it really thought-out. I’m a writer, so it’s time consuming. I think it takes 20 minutes or half an hour to write a letter and really get it the way I want it. I think it’s a better, purer way to communicate.”

Oh that Thoreau, he was so 160 years ago. And that Reilly interview is not much better. It is so 60 seconds ago. Modern communication technology within late term capitalism’s embrace has created this unfulfillable desire for a merging of the spoken word with that of the written, a same time reality.  This quest for seamlessness, sameness, is akin to Zeno’s racetrack, where the contestant never reaches the finish line because there is always half the distance to go. There is always that interval, the interval of time. Thoreau and Reilly taking the time to discover what is really worthwhile reveals difference. And the difference is found in the “taking the time”, not in the “time saving” instantaneity of “real time” aspiration.

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