“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”
Wordsworth wrote that 200 years ago, before telegraph, telephone, radio, television, or fax machines, let alone PCs, internet and PDAs. He should see us now!
I awoke this morning dissatisfied, aware that once again I had allowed myself to shallow out, aiming my attention outward rather than inward, toward ephemeral things rather than enduring ones. Or, as Henry Thoreau puts it in “Life Without Principle”:
“When our life ceases to be inward and private, conversation degenerates into mere gossip. We rarely meet a man who can tell us any news which he has not read in a newspaper, or been told by his neighbor; and, for the most part, the only difference between us and our fellow is that he has seen the newspaper, or been out to tea, and we have not. In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.”
What of those – like me! – who walk away from the internet with a great number of news items! We don’t even walk away! We have invited the newspaper into our homes!
I’m not complaining of the technology, or of the news and entertainment industry or of society. Not actually complaining of anything, really, except my own inability to remain conscious. But it is worth while to remember that in our day it is easier than ever to get pulled into the whirlpool of what is urgent rather than what is important, what is timely rather than what is timeless. (“Read not the Times,” Thoreau advises elsewhere; “Read the eternities.”) .
It’s a continual hazard, especially in election years.
On the one hand I have spent a month now reading political news, following political analysis, thinking political thoughts. Though I do not have a television, yet I have the internet which, for one who is print-oriented, is every bit as addictive.
On the other hand I have been immersed in the collected correspondence of Thomas Jefferson and John and Abigail Adams, marveling that our country should have been so fortunate as to have such deep and profound thinkers alive at the same time, ranging in their learning among several languages and seemingly all branches of knowledge, continuing to learn and think long into their old age.
Better than reading of the strivings of others, of course, is to do your own striving, in whatever way your life is shaped. But better to read of the strivings of others than to read nothing at all that would remind you of what we’re here to do.
It’s a nice corrective to too much news.