What If Thoreau Had An iPhone At Walden Pond?

A funny thing happened on the way back from the Apple Store… I confronted myself from 1999, and me from ten years ago was horrified at what I had become.

Today I set up an appointment with the Genius Bar on my iPhone. The time was 11 a.m. and I was frustrated to see the next available appointment was for 12:10 p.m., a whole hour away. I managed to pass the time by queuing up a playlist on my iPhone that I made the previous night of the best songs from the television show, Glee, which I had purchased individually on the fly from iTunes.

I arrived for my 12:10 p.m. appointment at 12:20 p.m. and was told politely that I missed my spot and would have to sign up for a new appointment, which would be in twenty minutes. I was annoyed and stomped off, trying to figure out how to spend twenty minutes with nothing to do. I flipped through various iPhone apps and checked NY Times headlines, read a few reviews on Flixter, and wrote a few emails after texting my wife and playing Ninja Ropes.

I walked back into the Apple store with my old iPhone and walked out with a new one. Not an upgrade, but a shiny new one. What was the issue with the old one? It had become sluggish. The kind employee plugged it in, confirmed that there had been a few latency issues and gave me a new one with no questions asked. Within three minutes they had transferred my phone number to the new device and within thirty seconds my 500 contacts were automatically populated from my account online. All because it was taking a few seconds to open an application.

And yet I was still annoyed.

I had to wait until I got home to resync my iPhone with my computer to get all my applications -- a full four hours -- by using a process that could be described as seamless. In the space during my ten-minute walk between the Apple Store and my workplace, I began to get antsy. I began to wonder if anything new had been posted to Fail blog. I was curious if anyone had commented on the Facebook picture I posted of my daughter. I began to worry I was going to miss out on the trend of the moment because I didn’t have access to Twitter. So, like a junkie craving his fix, I began downloading applications. “Just one,” I thought at first. But one led to another and soon I had pages filled.

That was when I slammed headfirst into myself from ten years ago.

1999Self: “Dude, what is wrong with you?”

Me: “What?”

1999Self: “You almost walked into traffic because you're staring at that stupid thing.”

Me: “Stupid thing? This is an iPhone! I am plugged into the collective consciousness! I know what is going on everywhere in the world. I am following the exploits of Balloon Boy, watching the latest video from Felicia Day, and checking my stock portfolio.”

1999Self: “That is all really cool, I admit. Do you know what day this is ten years ago? Today is the day you first forgot your cell phone at home.”

Me: “I remember that day…”

1999Self: “Of course you do. You had only had your first cell phone for a few months. You were walking through a bookstore and reached for it in your pocket only to discover it wasn’t there. In one electric moment you felt naked, alone, and completely liberated. No one could contact you; messages could wait as you strolled through the city without a care in the world.”

Me: “Yeah, but I was naïve. Look at me now. I carry 10,000 songs in my pocket. I have access to every shred of information humanity has ever devised. I can access satellite images of where I am right now and this will tell me where to go if I am lost.”

1999Self: “Here is what I see. I see an overstimulated information junkie. I see someone so connected to the world around him he is in danger of losing himself. I see someone who values trivia over substance and allows others to do his thinking for him. When was the last time you had time to think, just think? No iPhone plugged into your head, no computer in front of you, just a walk in a park.”

Me: “I don’t have time for that anymore.”

1999Self: “But you do have time for Balloon Boy.”

Me: “Uh, yeah.”

1999Self: “Because that is important to you.”

Me: “Kind of.”

1999Self: “You are pathetic.”

He stared at me with pity and I stared back at him angrily. He breathed in deep, tipped his head and simply said, “Good luck” as he turned and left.

I stood on the sidewalk quiet and alone. I looked down at my iPhone which informed me that I had a text waiting, I had received a phone call, and someone had left a comment in my Facebook account. I turned for a moment thinking that if I walked back to the Apple Store I would have a high-speed connection which I could use to download the latest episode of Techstuff to listen to on the walk back, but instead I simply slid the phone into my pocket with the ringer off. I had five minutes between me and my workplace. I wondered what I might think about…and was excited about that fact.

4 Responses to "What If Thoreau Had An iPhone At Walden Pond?"
  1. fastcart says:

    Nice post. I have no idea what my 1999self would think of me today.

    “You’re not married yet?”

  2. Shooter says:


    This post made my day since I am having a similar moment right now in trying to step back and do some strategic thinking. For me I’d probably have to go back to my 1989self, but even then I was tooling about bulletin board systems (BBS) on my Commodore 64. But I sure had a lot more time to just sit and THINK.

    I think this gets back to Audra’s comments about critical thinking in the first cast of the Cosmo’s podcast arc. I wonder if “we,” as a human race, are truly capable of discovering/rediscovering the mysteries of the universe in this day and age of information overload. Unfortunately, there is little or no thought put into teaching, learning, or conducting critical thinking these days and we have a vast majority of people reacting to the information they receive rather than processing it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would love an iphone, but since my family has a verizon phone contract, and since the kids love being on the same netowrk as their firends, I doubt I’ll be able to get one. It doesn’t mean that I’m not a similar information junkie. Whenever I travel, I carry two i-pods (an early nano for running with nikeplus and a 3rd gen nano for watching videos on the plane with my noise cancellation headphones), my verizon voyager, and my work blackberry. I love love to cut that down to at least two. Just an iphone and a blackberry.

    However, every year I run into an information cone-of-silence. My family owns a lake home on Balsam Lake in Wisconsin. For better or for worse, both mobile companies (verizon and T-Mobile) do not get signal there. My DVR is not waiting for me every night, and there is no computer access. It turns out to be the best weeks of my year, and I return refreshed and with a peaceful mind. I only wish I could get there more often.

    ~Shooter Out

  3. NothingButheRain says:

    I loved your post Solai.
    I think my 1999Self would say, “You used to have so much time to think and move slowly through the day. What did you let happen?”

    Today I’m yearning those quieter days (quieter in my mind).

  4. joeedh says:

    I think it’s a little naive to look back at the time since Carl Sagan and say, “man, we’ve done so little compared to then.” It’s not that we’ve stagnated as a society, it’s simply that we haven’t had anyone to tell us about it in such an awesome manner as Sagan.

    Frankly, I’m astonished at what we’ve done in science in the past decade. We’ve learned the rate of expansion of the universe is accelerating, at all odds with past models. Scientists are now creating an entire array of artificial organs, from kidneys to eyes to prosthetic limbs; while still fairly primitive, it would have sounded like science fiction to me ten years ago in 1999. The team at CERN is trying to prove the existent of the higgs bosun with the most powerful particle collider ever made. And NASA is finally getting off its ass and replacing the outdated, unsafe, horrifically expensive, 70s-era space shuttle design.

    It is my belief that science will continue make great progress. I believe we have only begun to see the full impact of modern computational resources; imagine what it’d be like to have flying vehicles that pilot themselves, or robots that build cities, or even a cure to things like cancer and diabetes.

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