The term transcendentalism developed in the 1830’s and 1840’s, and comes from transcend, which means to go beyond. The writers of this era had among their beliefs the view that the true meaning of life could be found by the individual searching within itself, rather than searching for material possessions or new technology. Henry Davis Thoreau expresses this view with the quotation "We do not ride upon the railroad, it rides upon us", from his work "Walden". This remark regarding technology is very apt. Through the ages inventions have influenced our lives, perhaps even more than some would desire.
Thoreau tried to tell the reader how technology can remove some of the control over your life, and by all means the writer made a good attempt. He succeeded by making it clear what can happen if inventions, in this case railroads, become eulogized. Technology is there to make the lives of people easier. Ultimately they might be serving a different cause, adding stress to peoples daily life. In this way, the quotation is an example of one of the 6 elements of Transcendentalism: Criticism of civilization and technology. The philosophy is the belief that man can intuitively transcend the limits of the senses and logic and receive higher truths and knowledge denied to other ways of knowing. In addition to the element mentioned previously, transcendentalism consists of five other elements: Reverence for nature, individualism, anti-rational/mysticism, anti-material and oversoul.
Another example of criticism of technology is the quotation from the same author stating; "Men thinks that it is essential that the Nation have commerce, and export ice, and talk through a telegraph, and ride thirty miles an hour, without a doubt, whether they do or not"… The inhabitants of the world seem to maintain the perspective that as long as something is done in the name of progress or science it’s obviously good. This applies regardless if the person uses it or not. This sentence puts the finger on the view of people; new inventions are always cherished.
Personally I support Thoreaus criticism of technology, at least to some extent. Why do we support technology we will never be a part of, or even experience the use of? Is it because everyone else does it, and if yes, are human beings only a flock of sheep? Is it because we are brought up with the belief that advancement is the solution? Is for example, the invention everyone adores; the television, the answer to a better and more meaningful life? Of course not, some might say. Others might even roll their eyes, for just asking the question. I would like to see their actions and words if their TV actually got removed from the pedestal in their living room. To be honest, if that occurred to me, I wouldn’t know what to do on Sundays… I wonder how many people who plan their week-schedule based on the TV-guide!
To sum it up briefly, Thoreau`s quotation says a lot in few words. It implies that people get distracted from what is important in life, by unnecessary technology. What types of technology which is necessary or not might be open for argument, although it’s certain that technology controls our lives both in good and bad. The question is if we want it to continue to do so, or if we would prefer a more puritanistic view of life. That’s an answer each individual person will have to think through on his or her own.