Is this a stunt? Of course it’s a stunt, as it was when James Sturm did it a few years ago, though that was less Walden-esque, since Sturm has a family. Also, Thoreau’s life at Walden Pond was kind of a stunt too, since, despite the impression of absolute solitude he tried to give, he would regularly walk into town to visit friends and family.
Still, the fact that it’s a stunt doesn’t mean that it’s not a socially useful act. I think of those lines from Dylan’s “Property of Jesus”: “Go ahead and talk about him because he makes you doubt / Because he has denied himself the things that you can’t live without….” Of course I could live without the internet if I had to! Mmm-hmmm. But it’s not possible right now, not with the job I have … and it’s not like there are even any jobs out there that don’t require the use of the internet…. Mmm-hmmm. Please do go on.
It’s interesting to find out what we tell ourselves when confronted with the possibility that we could live Otherwise. And being forced into those consoling narratives is probably useful to us, in much the same way that it was spiritually and morally useful to kings to have jesters who reminded them of their mortality and fallibility.
In fact, maybe every town should hire someone to live in their midst without any connection to the internet. (In Tim Richardson’s wonderful book The Arcadian Friends he describes eighteenth-century aristocrats who, with sometimes comic results, hired hermits to live in the picturesque little hermitages they had built on their massive properties.) We would pass by them every day and perhaps be moved to genuine reflection on our choices, especially the choices that we constantly tell ourselves aren’t really choices at all.
And now, as we begin our day, as each of us prays to an image of his image of himself, let’s sing — softly now, softly —
Day after day
Alone on a hill
The man with no internet
Is keeping perfectly still
But nobody ever texts him
They can see that he’s just a fool
And he never goes on Twitter
But the fool on the hill
Sees the web going down
And the eyes in his head
See see us all spinning round…