Thoreau is Alive (and Crankier Than Ever) on His 200th Birthday

In a recent piece in the Book Review section of The New York Times ("Celebrating Two Centuries of Thoreau") John Williams reminds us that "if the air at Walden had been really, really health-giving" Henry David Thoreau would be turning 200 in 2017.

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If you're at all like me, you include Thoreau with the most original writers of his time, and in fact, of just about any era. Rarely a day passes when I don't wish he were around to offer some perspective on the endless stream of gadgets, apps, and social media sites that, increasingly, dominate our lives.

So, in honor of HDT's Bicentennial birthday, I've asked a respected local psychic to bring him back from the beyond just long enough to take part in a special prototype test of a much anticipated new high-tech device called the PodPad.

Below is a transcript of what he had to say to the manufacturer...

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Make yourself comfortable, Mr. Thoreau. Some green tea? An organic protein bar? Given the demands of your cabin and garden, we're grateful you've agreed to test out the prototype of PodPad -- the exciting new Internet platform, phone, writing slate, security camera, and baby monitor. All in one.

HDT: I'll do my best. Although I've often said that inventions are wont to be pretty toys which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.

Interesting take, Mr. Thoreau. Mind if I call you Henry? You can tweet that to your followers as soon as we boot things up here.

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HDT: Followers, did you say? Afraid I don't know of any. What would they be for? I have a great deal of company in my house; especially in the morning, when nobody calls.

Twitter's just the thing, Henry. Tweet your latest insights to friends using PodPad. Post a watercolor of Walden Pond on your webpage. Or add a neighboring farmer to your Facebook account.

HDT: Tweeting sounds good to me. I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.

(Peeping noise of PodPad.)

HDT: Is it hungry?

Good one, Henry. This little beauty is hungry for information. Ravenous for detail.

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HDT: I must confess that I am a seeker neither of detail nor information. Our life is frittered away by it. On a winter's eve, when the cabin is quiet, I've often admonished myself. "Simplify," I say to no one but the wind. "Simplify."

Yes, yes. Simplicity. That's exactly why you'll appreciate PodPad. Just the tool you need. Now click on your search engine for starters and bring up GoogleEarth. (A humming, buzzing sound.) There you go: Concord, Mass., in high-def!

HDT: Did you describe this small gewgaw as a tool?

Well, of course it's a tool. The latest for staying in touch with friends and trends.

HDT: Men have become the tools of their tools so I am wont to try and eschew them.

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Intriguing angle, Henry. But PodPad's customizing options ensure that it's more than just your typical handheld. PodPad thinks ahead, beeping reminders, anticipating family birthdays, predicting pressing budget needs even in your world way out in the sticks.

HDT: Will it hammer a nail? Or cut a beam for joining?

Nothing so pedestrian, my friend. As you'll discover, PodPad's best quality is that it distracts from that sort of drudgery. Tell me which online pastimes make you click, Henry. I'm betting "Angry Birds" is one. Maybe you're into role playing or fantasy gaming?

HDT: Time, for me, passes swiftly. Too much so for me to wish it forward.

In fact, we're running a bit short on it at the moment. Any questions about the device?

HDT: Let us say I ask it for meaning. What shall it reply?

Admire that questing nature of yours, Henry. The meaning of life... I'm sure there's an app for that. Look, let's go to Twitter so you can tweet what you think. Is PodPad the next-wave device for thought leaders of your stature? We hope so.

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HDT: A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone. I must be going.

Wait, Henry. Please. Our session isn't finished yet. Ignore PodPad and you run the risk of dropping out of the loop.

(Sound of a wooden chair scraping.)

What about texting? I haven't shown you the baby-monitor function. Need to check out Hotwire. Foursquare. Wait until you shop for Mrs. Thoreau on Overstock! Don't forget TruuConfessions. Blogster.com ...

Henry?

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Note: The quotations in this essay are adapted from Henry David Thoreau's Walden (1854) and other writings.
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Peter Mandel is the author of the read-aloud bestseller Jackhammer Sam (Macmillan/Roaring Brook) and other books for kids, including Zoo Ah-Choooo (Holiday House) and Bun, Onion, Burger (Simon & Schuster).