We might be tempted, reading Walden, and wanting, for some reason, something more, answers, perhaps, though we might not yet know the questions, to split the difference (and the infinitive) and to quickly Google “Thoreau.” (I just did, and got 22 million results in about half a second.) Eventually, we might stumble across Walter Harding’s The Days of Henry Thoreau: A Biography, a good find, and one that carries the imprimatur of scholarly law. Harding’s book contains a map of Thoreau’s Concord. And, if we want to map the many obscure references in Walden, we might be interested in Harding’s Walden: An Annotated Edition, though there are so many annotations we are reminded of a crowded day in the South Bay, when one could not see the waves between the Manhattan and Hermosa Piers, there were so many surfers in the water. Sauntering further along the streams of academic searches, we might discover John Roman’s excellent “Mapping Thoreau’s World: An Artist’s Journal on Making an Illustrated Map of Historic Concord” (The Concord Saunterer: A Journal of Thoreau Studies, N.S. Vol. 15 : 123-184).
All good stuff, except for one problem: as we set sail on The Google Titanic, we seem to have put the actual Walden aside, the original text, and haven’t read, or reread, a single page. Besides, wouldn’t Thoreau be the first to say that if it’s maps we want, we would do well to make our own, and make it of our own neighborhood, that we might better come to know where we live, and what we live for?
Still, parts of Walden might perplex us for lack of specific knowledge of how things were in Thoreau’s time: his attitude toward the poor toward the end of “Economy,” for example, might perplex us, toward being poor (if he could be considered poor, by any definition), or of fear of becoming poor. We might want to know something of almshouses and poorhouses of Thoreau’s time, of what became of citizens with mental health problems, of the growth of towns, of economic recessions and recoveries, of farm labor, of immigration and how immigration provided for cheap labor and the exploitation of recent Irish immigrants to build the railroad through Thoreau’s countryside (Thoreau, in Walden, appears to have several objections to the railroad). These questions would provide us with useful pursuits that might lead to new reading perspectives.
But still, the questions of what we think of the poor, of being poor (if we might be considered poor by any definition), or fear of becoming poor, if we harbor such a fear, might suggest our own rendering, writing, of our economy, in such rhetorical terms as Thoreau opened the door for us. And as for maps, we would do well to make our own, our own reading map of Walden, complete with distances, landmarks, signposts, and other markings and drawings, and footnotes, so that our reader, if we can imagine such a one, might better know our reading perspective and what we found, having lived for some significant time, in Walden.
Gaggle, a new Internet start-up whose IPO and purpose have been double-secret rumors for months (it’s not yet clear if Gaggle portends a new great vowel shift or if there’s a schism in the works), has just had its cover blown by WankiLeaks, the surreptitious, hole-and-corner whistle-blowing site.
According to the story just leaked, Gaggle’s primary project is called “Gaggle Me-Researcher.” You enter your information in the Gaggle Me-Researcher tool, and it reveals “thyself,” which you can then come to know.
Using a kind of sic et non computer code, Gaggle Me-Researcher collects all the data from your computer, from your email, your social networking sites, your documents, your Excel files, your photos – any program, file, or folder beginning with “My.” It also collects all of the data from all of your friends’ computers, from anyone ever connected to your computer in any way, including spammers – the information, the data, from anything you’ve ever touched using your computer. Gaggle Me-Researcher then compiles a comprehensive profile of you, called “Meself.”
It’s not yet clear how Gaggle Me-Researcher collects your DNA, but it apparently does. This allows Gaggle Me-Researcher to trace the individual user’s “self-data” all the way back to Mitochondrial Eve or Y-chromosomal Adam. Thus, ultimately, according to Professor emeritus Stephen Jama of South Santa Monica Bay College, insider consultant to the Gaggle Me-Researcher project, to “know thyself,” is to know everyone else.
According to WankiLeaks, Gaggle’s introductory offer will include the catchy claim, “It’s never been easier to ‘know thyself.’”
“Ask not for whom the whistle blows,” Professor Jama concluded, somewhat cryptically, “it blows for thee.”