“For my part, I could easily do without the post-office.  I think that there are very few important communications made through it.  To speak critically, I never received more than one or two letters in my life — I wrote this some years ago — that were worth the postage. . . . And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Home mail delivery from the U.S. Postal Service

I am surprised by Thoreau’s feelings about the post office because he is a writer, after all, and I would have expected that he would have loved sending and receiving letters.  I think he’s right, though, about how seldom, if ever, the mail holds any letters or communications worth cherishing.  More typical are bills, political ads, consumer catalogs and direct mail solicitations from charities and worthy causes.

These days the U. S. Postal Service is considering closing thousands of offices around the country in a budget-cutting measure.  Perhaps the post office is becoming obsolete.  We live in a world where everyone is connected to everyone else nearly all the time via email, texting, social networks, hand-held smart phones, etc.  If Thoreau thought he was wasting time with snail mail, imagine how inundated and overwhelmed he would feel with today’s communication systems.

Today we can have “news” streaming at us 24 hours a day, if we choose.  Thoreau felt he learned little from news stories, which seemed to be the same tales told over and over.  David Whyte, in Crossing the Unknown Sea, reminds us that watching the news takes us away from our own unique directions in life:  “Watching the newscast, we realize this news is no news at all but someone else’s priorities centered mostly in extremely perverse ways on the NASDAQ and the Dow Jones.”

Many of us are still figuring out how to regulate the ceaseless flow of information, news and communications  — extracting the benefits of technology without losing our sense of self control over our lives.  William Power, author of Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, says that one lesson we can learn from Thoreau is to make our homes a retreat or refuge, creating zones or times where we turn off the internet and telephone and disconnect from the clamor of the global crowd.  “Digital busyness is the enemy of depth,” says Power.  I think Thoreau would agree.

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