Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age Review

Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age
Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age
William Powers (Paperback - Aug 9, 2011)
Harper Collins

A crisp, passionately argued answer to the question that everyone who's grown dependent on digital devices is asking: "Where's the rest of my life?"

At a time when we're all trying to make sense of our relentlessly connected lives, this revelatory book presents a bold new approach to the digital age. Part intellectual journey, part memoir, Hamlet's BlackBerry sets out to solve what William Powers calls the conundrum of connectedness. Our computers and mobile devices do wonderful things for us. But they also impose an enormous burden, making it harder for us to focus, do our best work, build strong relationships, and find the depth and fulfillment we crave.

Hamlet's BlackBerry argues that we need a new way of thinking, an everyday philosophy for life with screens. To find it, Powers reaches into the past, uncovering a rich trove of ideas that have helped people manage and enjoy their connected lives for thousands of years. New technologies have always brought the mix of excitement and stress that we feel today. Drawing on some of history's most brilliant thinkers, from Plato to Shakespeare to Thoreau, he shows that digital connectedness serves us best when it's balanced by its opposite, disconnectedness.

Using his own life as laboratory and object lesson, Powers demonstrates why this is the moment to revisit our relationship to screens and mobile technologies, and how profound the rewards of doing so can be. Lively, original, and entertaining, Hamlet's BlackBerry will challenge you to rethink your digital life.

My take: This is one of those sociological books that my cerebral self really enjoyed. First of all, Powers addresses a problems I struggle with every day. How much technology is too much? My answer has mostly been that too much is when it takes too long to figure it out. Like spending 45 minutes putting parental controls and taking off the app store of the ipod so my credit card will stop taking a hit. Like when we got a new DVR and I can't figure out how to cancel recordings so I simply gave up watching TV. 

Conversely, how much time have I invested into understanding html or ignored my children while I had a very important email to read or write or blog post to pound out (none of which I can remember, anymore)? More than I care to admit. In fact, Powers quotes a Google executive giving a commencement speech where he exhorts the new graduates to turn off the computer and play with a child.

What Powers contends is that we are missing "gaps" in our lives. The time between profound moments to process, make sense, and develop depth. We move from one activity to another, toggling as quickly as we can without taking the time to reflect and develop meaning from life. The author then uses experiences from his own life and provides philosophical examples from pivotal moments of information in the past like Plato telling a story about leaving the city behind to think or Guttenberg's moveable type machines and the way reading aloud to reading silently changed thinking processes, Shakespeare's Hamlet using a fourteenth century  ipad, etc.

I found each example to be incredibly intriguing and presented new information or information presented in a way I'd not considered. This is not a book to read while surrounded by technology or other people to distract the reader. Although not difficult to understand and easy language, the ideas require the reader to have "gaps" to absorb it.

Ultimately, I still struggle with the question of technology. On the other hand, my best example is that of my dad. No matter what he was listening to on the radio, watching on the television, reading in a book or newspaper, when I spoke he turned off the radio, television or closed the book until we were finished talking. Nothing on t.v. or the radio was more important than I was.

I wish William Powers had included Tony LaPray as one of the pivotal men in information history.

1 comment:

Beth S. said...

This book sounds quite interesting. I think I'm going to have to check it out. I am certainly guilty of being too connected. Heck, I'm sitting here with my computer on my lap, and my iPhone next to me. Yeah, I'd say I'm a bit too connected.