2011 Essay Winner: Jackie Roche 

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Jackie Roche, age 17
EDCO Greater Boston Winner
Notre Dame Academy
Hingham, Massachusetts

     My Modern Walden
     In a world immersed in the media, it is tough to give up technology for even one hour.  Social networks, emails, cell phones, and even iPods follow the modern soul wherever he may choose to go.  However, this break from technology is exactly what I needed, so, for a month, I stayed away from anything with a lit up background and keys.  In a sense, I retreated into the wilderness of modern society: the unwired.

    Because I gave up so much screen time, I was able to spend my time after homework thinking or reading.  I read Jane Austen; I tried new recipes.  Sometimes, I even went outside and took a nap in the sunshine. I would press my ear to the blanket, listening to the faint sounds of the moving dirt.  The hum of the insects and the flow of the grass would lull me into my daydreams.

    When you are completely and totally alone, the quiet begins to form its own identity.  At first, you hear absolute silence, the lack of sound after being so used to constant movement.  Then, you learn to pick up on things: the little things.  Suddenly, the fly across the room is your companion, and you can hear the whistle of the wind through the trees, the zipping of a blade of grass in the breeze.  With these sounds, nature comes alive.  Solitude and isolation are not necessarily emptiness.  In fact, solitude lends itself to fullness: the feeling of being one with nature, being part of the huge world outside your door.  As I listened to the ground, I recognized the tiny world beneath my feet.

    As my media detoxification continued, I began to think about the people who were not able to access computers at all.  As hard as I tried, I still had to hop onto the computer each day for homework.  What if you didn’t have that access?  What if you didn’t even have a textbook?  To a rich man, an impoverished person is one who lacks something.  To most, this lack is in material possessions.  But the world can become a person’s textbook.  The ancient Greeks said: “know thyself.”  By doing away with all distractions, the man in “poverty” is able to spend time with the only things he has left: his heart and his brain.  This minimalism allows him to develop the innate gifts he has.  Through my own “poverty”, I was able to expand my view of the world and myself.

    In essence, my break from the media is exactly what Thoreau did when he abandoned modern life and moved to Walden: he gave up technology.  Thoreau writes, “I should not talk so much about myself if there were any body else whom I knew as well.”  Through his time in the woods, he has been able to truly meditate on who he is, and what he believes in.  Without constant distractions pulling him away, he can live simply: and simply live.