My yearly Sweden vacations are ever so offline. Checking e-mail is 15 kilometers away, and an unexpected liberator in that. So how does this affect me? Well, last year's experience made me discover Honore's "Slow", a short book about simplifying your life, and taking time to smell the roses. During this year’s vacation, I hit the Swedish book shops with the intent to find similar titles. But I was disappointed with seemingly shallow follow-ups trying to ride the success wave of Slow. Hours of book browsing later I came back empty-handed, disappointed not because I couldn’t find what I wanted but rather because I didn't know what I was looking for.
Some days later I received a gift from my mother, a book with exquisite drawings and fine writings from a Swedish lake in the Mälaren area ("Sjö" by Gunnar Brusewitz). I was extremely pleased with the gift and started to ponder how removed I had become from nature. Living a city life, commuting to a cubicle, racing between commitments both at work and at home, and never taking the time to reflect, my life is not in harmony. With the vacation spent in lush landscapes, it is a disturbing contrast. My wife says I get depressed when I return home from summer vacations.
Resting in the grass of my mother's garden, it hit me: Walden by Thoreau! Of course! This book is commonly referenced in the books I like the most. Why not turn to the original thoughts? Returning to the book store I was lucky to find a modern acclaim-winning translation to Swedish. Ka-ching!
I am proud to say that I digested Walden for two months, reading and rereading it and penetrating the text. Still, I am incapable of reviewing it. It is simply too unwieldy for such an effort. What fascinated me the most is how relevant Walden is today. Perhaps even more so than when originally published in 1854. A central question in the book is if we are slaves or masters of technology. I believe we have become more enslaved in the century-and-a-half since Walden was written; today it is all but possible to escape the ubiquity of technology. While technology has enabled tremendous progress and human potential, it has also tethered us to an ever-faster pace of technological invention. Are we in control of this pace today, and will we be in control tomorrow? This is an important question from a global perspective - but Walden deals with the personal perspective. Can we live a rich life with technology? Thoreau's answer is a resounding "No".
How did Walden change me? I try to achieve fewer things. I try to keep my to-do list short. I try to spend more time off-the-grid. I try to reflect before I act. I try to connect to nature. I try to smell the roses. But one thing is certain: simplicity is not easy, but comes with significant rewards.