The Transcendentalist Bible: Thoreau, Walden and Religion

When going through ideas for this blog post, one must first consider what immediately jumps out to them specifically about Thoreau’s Walden. To me, it was clear that Thoreau’s main message was one of philosophy: if you should live simply, you will become enlightened. This message that is reiterated throughout Walden is an idea that has been similarly recycled in many religious doctrines since the beginning of time.

This idea is vital to understanding Thoreau as an author and as a human being. Thoreau, like many great thinkers throughout history, was fascinated with the idea of religion and the effect which it had on his fellow man. Thoreau, a radical progressive in many ways, was obsessed with the way people treated each other and how it was comparable to religious dogma. In 1859,  John Brown, a radical abolitionist, attempted to take over a military arsenal in Virginia with the help of armed slaves. After the raid failed and Brown was arrested, Thoreau, one of the most outspoken abolitionists of his time, was one of Brown’s most vocal supporters.

In his essay A Plea for Captain Brown, Thoreau attacks Christians in the United States for being hypocritical: Christ preached justice and tolerance, and slave-owning Christians defied these orders whilst continuing to preach Christ’s words:

The modern Christian is a man who has consented to say all the prayers in the liturgy, provided you will let him go straight to bed and sleep quietly afterward. All his prayers begin with “Now I lay me down to sleep,” and he is forever looking forward to the time when he shall go to his “long rest.” He has consented to perform certain old-established charities, too, after a fashion, but he does not wish to hear of any new-fangled ones; he doesn’t wish to have any supplementary articles added to the contract, to fit it to the present time.

Thoreau would later go on to draw parallels between Brown and Christ, as well as the United States government and Pontius Pilate. It is clear that Thoreau’s fascination with religion and followers of religion had an enormous effect on his political views. This world view seems to have developed during the writing of Walden, some ten years prior.

It is my belief that, throughout Walden, Thoreau is describing his exodus as a religious experience. As Walden progresses, Thoreau begins to slip more and more biblical references into his work. Thoreau compares the beginning of spring to the creation of the universe, as well as claiming that God “patented a leaf.” Thoreau’s eventual ascent into enlightenment is treated much in the same way Christ’s ascension to heaven is treated in the New Testament: a gradual, unfolding plotline which paints its protagonist as an enlightened figure who grinds against the norms of society only to be cast away, until he eventually becomes greater than all.

Thoreau’s experiences in Walden could be summed up in the biblical verse James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the lord, and he will lift you up.” Thoreau left everything he knew and every luxury he was accustomed to in order to live on the shores of Walden pond, humbling himself before the Lord in nature, where he felt most connected to God. Thoreau’s Christ-like journey to enlightenment provides a fantastic and intriguing subtext to the classic Walden storyline of simple living and spiritual discovery.

Implications of Isolation Beyond Ficiton

While readers tend to focus on Thoreau’s physical removal from society, and his resulting forfeit of easily accessed food, warmth and shelter, I draw larger conclusions from his emotional and mental seclusion. From literature to everyday life, solitude and introspection prove to be cathartic. However, my observations have left me questioning whether or not privacy can have constructive or damaging affects.

Last semester I took a course called the Woman Writer in which we worked with literature through a feminist lens. More so than any other piece, I long-awaited Ariel, a collection of poems by Sylvia Plath, since The Bell Jar has always been a favorite of mine. Anyway, I used to always hold Plath in high regard, because I recognized and respected her not only as a woman and a writer, but also as a victim. Plath was undeniably brilliant, but deeply motMTE4MDAzNDEwNjU4NzU2MTEwivated by an urge to please the men in her life: her controlling father, Otto, and her husband, Ted Hughes. As a result, many of her poems capture her resentment of gender roles. One of her poems in particular, ‘The Applicant’ depicts the story of an abrasive salesmen attempting to sell an appliance, a house-wife, to a young man. Sylvia Plath constructed ‘The Applicant’ days after deciding to divorce Ted Hughes, and her poem can be viewed as her disparaging commentary on marriage. In much of her work, Plath illustrates the hardship and inequity of being a woman, and refutes imposed ideals upon women. ‘The Applicant’ is no exception, as it draws upon and challenges a strict social expectation of coupling, and a subservient female role in marriage. Read along and listen here (her voice is eerily captivating).

Although I commend Plath for her stance against gender conventions, the more I have studied Plath, and the more I read up on her, the less enamored I become. Given her powerful yet disturbing writing, the tumultuous relationships which she herself formed, and her horrific suicide, I am left questioning, which was more valuable to Plath, her art or her life?

I have never thought to limit her work, or her life for that matter, to her mental illness. For this reason, I am left feeling disappointed with Sylvia Plath. I believe that her writing became so reliant on her pain and suffering, that she made no attempt at treatment. As a woman living in the 21st century, perhaps my critique of her is too harsh, but after reading a great deal of her work I can confirm that it does not extend beyond censure of the patriarchy and her struggles as a woman. Al Alvarez, an English poet, accurately viewed Plath’s self-destructiveness as “the very source of her creative energy. It was, precisely, a source of living energy, of her imaginative, creative power.” It is the nature of artists to incorporate their emotions and muses into their craft. But, Plath’s actual suffering and her work became one in the same. One of Plath’s idols, Virginia Woolf, coined the term “a room of one’s own” in which people of every gender are entitled to be alone, and uninhibited to focus upon themselves. In this state, Woolf believed that people could emerge stronger and more independent. I think that Plath found a room of her own, and locked herself inside of it forever.

Thoreau resembles Plath in his commitment to solitude. He has literally created a rooHenry_David_Thoreaum, a cabin, of his own in which he can dwell and learn to live deliberately, without contact from his superficial world. Like Plath, Thoreau seeks to gain vision, and to be able to share his experience with others. However, there is a great distinction to be made between the two. Thoreau removed himself from the world to pursue his passion, Transcendentalism. Plath isolated herself, detached herself from reality and ignored the well being of herself and her children. She became so obsessed with her work that she allowed herself to fall deeper into her pit of despair. It is a heart wrenching happening that Plath succumbed to her madness, while Thoreau led a liberating existence by combining his art with his life. In being driven by their burning passions, geniuses are rarely able to strike a balance between the two.



Source: Plath, Sylvia. “The Applicant.” Ariel. New York: Harper-Perennial, 1999. Print.


Free Speech in the Digital Age?

The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America grants us the freedom of religion and the freedom of expression.  Freedom of expression meaning freedom of speech, press, assembly and to petition the government. All of these things are pretty neat. In general I would say 10/10—would recommend freedom.



But like any fave—it’s problematic. As a student of, well, not-law, I’m probably not the best qualified person to provide an interpretation of the Constitution. But I am a student of English so I think I do possess a few interpreting skills and I am going to take a stab at it anyways. I am going to employ my freedom of speech to provide a criticism of free speech. God bless America.

What do you mean women can vote??
What do you mean women can vote??

I think the biggest problem with the first amendment is that it was passed in 1791. In addition to not being a student of law, I am also not a student of history, but I feel pretty confident in saying that our beloved founding fathers did not anticipate the advent of the digital age. I mean, James Madison didn’t even know what an electric light bulb was, I can’t even imagine how he would react to some of the technology we have today.

My issue with freedom of speech in the digital age lies specifically with the internet. Yes, you the internet. I could write odes to you and all the wonderful things you enable us to do. But sometimes you are a swirling cesspool of horrible, rude, offensive, and threatening comments. Take for example Lindy West’s story from a recent episode of This American Life.  In this episode, West talks about how she is attacked by strangers on the internet on a daily basis. Under the veil of anonymity, these strangers find new and unique ways to harass this woman regularly without consequences. One specific troll going far enough to make a parody twitter account of her recently deceased father and using it to harass her.

As an experiment I decided to click on some random YouTube videos and take a peak at the comment section. The first video I clicked on was a video directly on the homepage  titled “Sea Lion Joins Family on Santa Barbara Kayak-ORIGINAL VIDEO”. I thought that with a title so seemingly innocent as that, how could anyone possibly have anything rude to say? This was the top comment:

comment 1

Here are some other comments I found and screen-grabbed on random YouTube videos. Keep in mind I did not have to plumb the depths of the internet to find these. It took about 20 seconds of scrolling. Also, fair warning, these contain offensive language:

comment 3

comment 2

comment 4


The digital age enables us to say these things to each other, but do we really have the right to say these things? Should we be allowed to harass, threaten, and abuse other human beings online just because the constitution says its okay? The digital age is progressing much faster than our muddled-down bureaucratic government can and legislation cannot keep up with it. Anyone with an internet connection has the power to reach virtually anyone else in the world with an internet connection. Americans consider freedom of speech a hallmark of American society— we can say whatever we want to say and never worry about the consequences. There is something wrong with that.

I am not saying I think that these people should be banned from commenting on the internet, but I am saying there needs to be consequences for the things they say. Much like how shouting “fire” in a crowded theater has its consequences, so to should posting threats, crude insults, or anything to that effect online. The first amendment should not be an excuse to send rape threats to women online, or post racist comments, or toss around vulgar insults. We need to rethink our definition of freedom of speech in the digital age now that we have much more room to exercise that freedom.



Technology and Autism

One major benefit of technology and the modern world is seeing how our inventions help people. Our society has created apps and devices that can help autistic children perform basic tasks that are otherwise incredibly difficult or impossible to perform.

Children with autism have difficulty focusing on one task at a time without getting distracted. Technological devices such as iphones, tablets, computers, televisions, etc. help this issue by stimulating multiple senses at once.ak1 A video game has the ability to stimulate both your eyes and your ears. While a book really only stimulates your eyes.

Another issue that autistic children have is staying still. It’s been proven that they learn and work much better when they’re moving. Even if they’re  doing something that just requires moving their hands such as drawing, using stress balls, typing, etc. This goes right along with the fact that they can’t focus on one task. Their bodies and minds must be both be  fully stimulated to productively promote learning.

Autism often goes hand-in-hand with poor social skills. For children specifically, it’s difficult to make eye contact, read other people’s emotions, communicate and express their own feelings. This seriously limits the amount of meaningful connections they can make with people. In the case of Jong-Hyun, his inability to make eye contact was a major issue in his relationship with his mother. Watch this short clip (just a warning: it almost made me cry) and you’ll see what I’m talking about:

As you can see in the video, Samsung has collaborated with doctors and professors a to create an app called Look At Me. It’s a series of “missions” which are basically games designed specifically to help autistic children with reading facial expressions, expressing their own emotions and making eye contact.

The app was tested on twenty children over the course of eight weeks. During this time, the students played a variety of games. For example, there’s a game that places faces of multiple people in small dots over the eyes of a different person. The student has to identify which person’s face is in the dot. This helps improve facial recognition and also making eye contact.


Another game, as shown above, displays multiple different faces with multiple different emotions. The child has to identify happy and sad faces from this line-up. This helps the kids recognize emotions.

Of the twenty children that were trained with Look At Me, sixty percent showed improvements.

Many autism suffers have difficulties dealing with unpredictability. Technology is one of the most predictable parts of our world. You press a button and it will do something. Every time you press that same button, it will do that same something. This isn’t the first time that technology has been used to aid in the development of autistic children and I’m sure it won’t be the last.


Fiction in the Internet Age?

Here’s a little snippet that got me started on this idea:

If you didn’t take the time out of your day to watch that short video, you should go back now! But if not, here’s a synopsis of what Mr. Wallace had to say. He is generally wondering about fiction and its ever evolving state, specifically in relationship to the Information Age. Interestingly, though, the modern world has in some sense moved out of the Information Age into the Internet Age.

Of course, “Internet Age” and “Information Age” are really very little more than arbitrary names that describe general trends of the time. However, the distinction between these two starts to develop more significance when we think of how much the world has changed in the last 75 years, even the last 40. Here Wallace, one of the premier figures in modern fiction, is speaking in 1996, right at the genesis of The Internet Age, and his primary reference point is television. For him growing up, information was transmitted via television. As he points out though, television exceeded its initial utilitarian, information spreading purposes and found itself somewhere in the grey space between what is art and what is not. He muses “I was raised to view television as more or less my main artistic snorkel to the universe, and I think television, which is a commercial art, that’s a lot of fun, that requires very little of the recipient of the art, I think effects what people are looking for in various kinds of art.” dfw

OK, whoa.

The gist of what Wallace is saying isn’t all that new. The Information Age has clearly shaped the way people consume art and related content. This is even apparent at the macro level: TV replaced newspapers, and now Online media is challenging TV. Wallace’s question, though, ends up being more about the state of literature in relationship to these changes than popular media.

In his place as a bestselling, popular fiction writer, Wallace wonders at the way his style has responded to the information age, especially as it relates to the mass consumption mechanism of television. “What’s interesting to me is that the very phenomenon that demographically perhaps cuts into our audience is a big part of what’s going on in the country that I think fiction writers are trying to capture in some way.”

So the programming that is keeping people glued to the television and away from books is what Wallace cites as the inspiration for the density of his work, arguably the feature that makes them most enjoyable.

Fast forward a few years, it is worthwhile to start looking at the type of writing that has become popular since Wallace’s interview, since the Internet Age has really taken hold.

Here’s another clip, this one from another fiction writer, George Saunders, whose collection “Tenth of December” was published in 2013.


Ironically, the clip is from Saunder’s visit to Google, that company which by now has come to distinguish itself as the symbol of the Internet’s role in our lives.

After listening to the first few minutes, where he talks about his own cultural touchstones and begins reading from his own story “Escape from Spiderhead,” I can’t help but wonder if “Spiderhead” doesn’t bear some sort of resemblance to a symbolic representation of Google headquarters.

ENGL 340 for me so far has been much more a game of letting technology respond to literature. Here I attempted to begin a discussion of the question on the other side: how has modern fiction been responding to The Internet?

Such Language. Much Grammar. Wow.

Ah, technology! Destroying young people’s ability to use proper English for generations! Kids these days don’t even know the difference between “to” and “too”! It’s only a matter of years before our entire language has degenerated to acronyms and LOLspeak!


…Or maybe that’s just a paranoid overreaction. Sure, we’ve all seen things like this too many times to count…

Facebook Mocking Grammar

…but perhaps the reason such faux pas have seemingly become more prevalent with the advent of social media websites isn’t a matter of causation, but rather a case of the internet bringing these issues to light. There is no reason to believe that these people wouldn’t be practically illiterate in a world without the internet; it’s just that the web allows us to see their crimes against grammar in action, whereas in the days before Facebook and Twitter, the only witnesses were the poor, underpaid teachers grading their papers.

It is also important to keep in mind that there is a colossal difference between posts like the one pictured above and intentionally poor English. In fact, the latter may even be having a positive effect on our linguistic capacities. Take a look at this picture:


For those of you who have been living under a rock without WiFi for the past year, that is an example of the internet meme “doge,” a type of image featuring a Shiba Inu surrounded by grammatically incorrect phrases in colorful Comic Sans. How could something so idiotic possibly be good for the human brain, you ask? Well, memes like doge are an example of something linguists call language play, which essentially means taking language and having fun with it through means like puns, crossword puzzles, and the elements of poetry – activities generally agreed upon to be partaken in largely by linguistically gifted individuals and beneficial for learning. This particular brand of language play involves its own set of rules, as linguist Gretchen McCulloch notes; there is a right and wrong way to use the language of doge. It involves a certain grasp on the English language to understand why “such flowers” would be viewed as correct doge-speak and “many flowers” would be viewed as incorrect, don’t you think?

Here are a few more example of how the medium of internet memes provides language players with a new outlet for their creativity:


hammer time

lolcat bible

doge romeo and juliet

So if you’re worried about the internet bringing about a linguistic apocalypse, relax! The English language seems to be in good hands.

Did Thoreau Have Asperger’s?

While reading Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, there are of course many different thoughts running through the readers mind, mainly “Thoreau, what is your problem”? Throughout Walden, the voice of Thoreau comes off as pretentious and egotistical as he explores the benefits of experiential learning and living deliberately.  He tends to obsess over the same idea or concept for chapters at a time and has demonstrated the least bit of interest in any sort of social contact.  Most people would write Thoreau off as an odd, prude man whose life’s motto is “my way or the highway”, but perhaps there is another explanation for Thoreau’s blunt and elitist manner.

Asperger’s Syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that differs from other autism disorders in that Asperger’s does not affect linguistic and cognitive development. Characterized mostly by a lack of social skills and fixations on topics or activities, Asperger’s affects 200K to 3M US citizens per year. People with Asperger’s usually have a hard time experiencing empathy and reacting to social cues. They also tend to stick to inflexible schedules or mentalities and tend to excel in academics. One of the biggest problems a person with Asperger’s faces is a sort of “social dyslexia”. In a documentary about Asperger’s, David Jordan, a man who has Asperger’s, describes how difficult it is to connect to people unless he is discussing a topic he is really interested in. However, even then, the conversation is no longer a conversation, but more of him talking and the other person listening.

When looking at the symptoms of Asperger’s and the personality traits seen in Thoreau’s Walden side by side, it becomes apparent that Asperger’s could possibly be a syndrome Thoreau himself lived with. It would explain why Thoreau comes off as an antisocial rude man and why he was so comfortable living in the woods by himself for so long. For example, when meeting the Baker family in the chapter “Baker Farm” in Walden, Thoreau comes off as racist when describing the family, how they live, and what they look like. Another example can be seen in the chapter “Reading” from Walden in which Thoreau discusses at length the benefits of being an adventurous learner and what that means. In “What’s Your Fucking Problem Henry Thoreau?”, an article for The Daily Kros, a woman with Asperger’s explores the similarities between herself and Thoreau, saying she never understood why she connected with the American writer until her diagnosis. She offers an interesting insight into Thoreau and the similarities between Thoreau and Asperger’s.

What’s Your Fucking Problem Henry Thoreau?

While there is a strong possibility that Thoreau could have had Asperger’s, this isn’t an excuse or pass for Thoreau’s behavior. Although there are a lot of personality traits that Thoreau exhibits in Walden that correlate with Asperger’s, many people who have Asperger’s are not as rude as Thoreau seems to be in his novel. When Thoreau wrote Walden, there weren’t as many sources for people with Asperger’s, so Thoreau would not have been able to improve his social skills as he would have been able to do today so that could be an explanation for why he differs in some behavioral aspects. Basically we will never know if Thoreau actually did have Asperger’s, we can only speculate. But in speculating that does not take away from Thoreau’s beliefs, actions, or opinions; it simply gives us a peephole into who Thoreau really was and a possible explanation for his words and actions.



Learning Through Experience

Awhile back I came across a Tedx Talk by Logan LaPlante and his educational experience. He goes through schooling in which he calls “hack school”. He learns what he is interested in, still focusing on the core subject and on his greatest goal in life… to be happy.

After watching this talk, I begin to think about my future. I am a childhood/special education major and am working toward being a reading specialist. Common Core Curriculum has recently been implemented into public school systems through out the U.S., changing the way teachers teach and how schools run. I have witnessed students struggle though this sudden change. Common Core is based on standardized tests to measure how students have improved throughout the year and how well teachers taught their students. I have seen this curriculum put immense amounts of stress on teachers and especially children. In todays society children are put under too much stress. There are 8 year old children loosing sleep over how well they will do on their ELA and math standardized test, instead of thinking about kid stuff, like what games they want to play tomorrow or if their friend will go on a bike ride with them. I believe common core is a good idea and has good motives. It is a step in the right direction for our education system, but it was implemented too quickly with little training to teachers. This has led teachers to teach to the test, so that their students can pass the tests and move onto the text grade. There are better ways to run education besides forcing testing on students. We have to remember kids are kids. During the early years of education, socialization is just as important as the content learned and this needs to be recognized. Children learn best through experience. Hands on learning can bring both socialization and content learning into a classroom. Students can work together to solve problems and create projects in order to learn the curriculum, as well as learn how to socialize with their peers.

One of Thoreau’s main points in the novel “Walden” is that learning through experience is more effective than traditional schooling. I aim to make my classroom as close to a hands on learning experience as possible for the most effective education. I am a strong believer in the importance of keeping creativity in the classroom and learning from hands on experience. Logan speaks about this in his talk, saying his happiness is most important to him and when he learns what he enjoys though experience, he is happy. I see my classroom as a place of creativity and a place of comfort for children. When you think back to your early years of school, you don’t remember what you learned, you remember the experiences you had. I want my students to look back on their life, and remember my classroom as being a comfortable place, where they had fun as they learned. I want my students to be excited about learning.



Industrial Evolution

Remember when Napster, that old mp3 downloading program, was caught up in a legal battle with the music industry? Many people on the sidelines supported Napster because downloading music is just an easier method to be able to listen to the music they wanted to. Us Average Joes were simply looking for convenience and the pushback from the industry was massive. Big artists like Metallica were right at the front lines condemning Napster users– sure, it was grounded in the legal and moral issues involved in illegaly downloading music, but a large part of it was the industry’s unwillingness to change to better suit the needs of the consumers. But now if we look at iTunes, we’ll see that not only are people willing to pay a reasonable price for the convenience of downloadable music but that this new system is nothing but profitable. Itunes generated $12.9 billion in 2012, and though this doesn’t all go to the artist (in fact most only make ~9% of each sale) it has paved the way for a more fluid industry in which the consumers have more of a say.

So, what’s the point?

This is reminiscent of the introduction of the paperback we read about in Menand’s The Birth of Pulp Fiction in a number of ways, as well as being an event that we all have a more solid perspective on. The contrast between the music industry and the publishing industry, however, is a very important one to make: the publishing industry has been embracing change, capitalizing on not only paperback covers ut eReaders, eBooks, and other new technologies to raise their profit margins and give us the convenience we oh so dearly desire. In fact, those who are most opposed to evolution within the industry, both in the rise of the paperback and now the rise of the eBook, are the big-name authors: the Metallica equivalents, these days including Stephen King. Their argument? ebooks are doing more harm to the industry than good.

King himself was one of the first authors to dabble in the eBook format, and he even released a serialized series for $1 per issue. His experience in the field has led him to profess that the changes the inustry is taking is its toll not on the publishers but on the authors. Here are the numbers: In 2012, eBooks are accountable for $3 billion in revenue, a 50% increase from 2011. They generated 20% of the publishing industry’s total revenue on their own, all while physical book sales fell by 7% in that period. Those familiar with economics can easily see that the consumers are speaking, and they’re favoring eBooks. King asserts, however, that almost every player — publishers, search engines, libraries, pirates and even some scholars — is vying for position at authors’ expense.” Like the artists on iTunes who only make ~9% of each sale (approximately 9 cents a song) authors who sell their eBooks dirt cheap are seeing a noticeable decrease in their own revenue.

Coupled with that issue is the increasing ease of self-publishing. In the words of Melissa Foster, an author of three international bestselling novels, “self-published authors have created a devaluing of the written word,” and are in a sense killing the industry. Self-publishers are able to create a work with as much or as little editing, merit, or what some may call “worth” as they please without the guidance of editors. They are then able to put their eBooks up for sale on websites like Amazon competitively priced among the likes of Foster and King themselves, the latter of whome claims that the market is being saturated with low class, gimmicky works which will inevitably lead to the death of the publishing industry. Sound familiar to Pulp Fiction yet?

In the words of self-published author Ed Robertson (who interestingly enough cites de Graff and introduction of the paperback in his argument): “If [indie authors] have killed anything, it’s the idea that books need to cost as much as they do.” He believes that the sharp increase in book prices since 1961 have caused stagnancy in both the publishing industry and many readers unwilling to pay for increasingly expensive books. Self-published authors who decided their own prices, often in the $.99 to free range, have provided what Roberston believes to have been a much needed kickstart to the industry and are responsible for the profits mentioned above just as much as the new formats of reading.

The problem with creative industries boils down to differences in goals: publishers want to make as much money as they can, authors want to make the best quality work that they can while adhering to their own vision, and consumers want to pay the lowest prices possible. I place no faith in the claims of an imminent demise in the publishing industry but I can see very clearly that there is a need for reconciliation among these goals in order to maintain the balance between quality, price for the consumers and profit for the authors.

IPAT or IPA(1/T)?

If there’s one big thing we can take away from English 340, it’s that there are two things that we humans treasure: technology and nature. As we study Thoreau and programming side-by-side, we begin to see how these two very different (arguably opposite) things can live in harmony and even advocate for each other. But we’ve been looking at the interaction between nature and technology through a very narrow lens thus far–that is, Thoreau’s lens. When we look at the relationship between nature, or the environment, and technology on a broader scale, things get a little fuzzy.

Who could live without their cellphone, really?
Who could live without their cellphone, really?

There’s no question that technology and nature are good for humans. We use technology everyday, from our cell phones and computers to hospital equipment and obtaining the fuel that runs our cars. It makes our lives easier, helps us be creative, fosters learning and communication, and simply keeps us entertained.



And who wouldn't love to see this?
And who wouldn’t love to see this?

Nature, too, is our ally in getting by. How would Thoreau have written Walden if not for nature? How would we go camping and hiking and escape from our hectic lives for a while, if not for nature? Where would we get the resources we need to develop and share our technology–if not for nature?


But what about the final leg of this little love triangle? How do nature and technology feel about each other? It’s a question that environmentalists debate and struggle with everyday. There’s even a little equation–or, rather, two equations–they have to describe this relationship. It’s called IPAT or IPA(1/T) (depending on your stance).

Not yet, at least.
No, IPAT is not the newest technology by apple.

IPAT stands for I = P x A x T. The “I” stands for the total impact on the environment, “P” stands for population, “A” for affluence, and “T” for technology. Basically, this means that the bigger the population, the more that population consumes, and the more technology they use, the bigger their impact will be on the environment. The argument for this is pretty well known; more technology means more oil (to build your devices), more pollution (a byproduct of production), more habitat loss (to house that production), and more waste (from when we’re done with our technology). The list goes on and on, and the process is outlined pretty well in this “nice” cartoon by Steve Cutts.

However, not everybody feels this way. In the alternative equation, IPA(1/T), all of the letters mean the same thing, only the “(1/T)” means that with more technology, the total impact on the environment gets smaller. The idea behind this comes from all of the good things technology has done for protecting the environment: solar power, hydro power, wind power, and all the alternative resources that scientists are trying to make use of. We use technology to get rid of wastes more efficiently and to attempt to repair the damage that we’ve caused in the past. We use technology to protect habitats and wildlife and advocate for the environmental cause. We use technology to find solutions to the very problems that it causes. Take this video, for example, that talks about turning our roads into solar panels.

So which one is right? T or (1/T)? It’s technology versus technology, and nobody has the answer. A lot of people say that with technology we can fix anything. But what about the costs of new technology, both monetary and environmental? What about the oil and energy that goes into developing new devices and solar roadways? Can those things be circumvented, or will they pay themselves off overtime? Does it matter in the end? Will we ever stop using technology, even if it turns out that (1/T) isn’t accurate?

I don’t have the answers, though I like to think that we can find a way to make IPA(1/T) a reality. The secrets of relationship between the environment and technology might be something that only time can tell. Until then, we can only struggle to keep a balance between humanity’s two loves.