Book Review: Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers

Hamlet's Blackberry by William Powers

Books and other writings about digital connectedness, such as use of internet, social media, etc. are close to my heart, because I am connected a lot.

I leave my computer on the whole day and have multiple tabs open on my browser (four website are always open, others are added and taken off again during the day). I have two email programmes running, as well as twitter and I can keep quite busy with it all. I have to tell myself to take breaks, otherwise I’d be on the computer a large part of the (non-working) day.

Hamlet’s Blackberry looks for ways to deal with the multiple instant demands that online life makes on us, drawing on some old and new philosophers’ ideas.

Hamlet’s Blackberry: What it is about

In this digital age, many people are connected to many people around the world throughout the day, whether at home or at work. Any moment you may get another email coming in that you have to answer, or with an interesting link to click on, some more tweets that you’re curious to read, some information that you just have to look up, now. Connected life is busy.

William Powers suggests that all this flitting about leads to a disjointed life. We’re never quite present in our real life because we are constantly distracted by our online life. In our online life, so much is going on that we don’t take the time to think more deeply about what we’re busy with.

So, what can we do to get away from the information overload? Powers turns to seven philosophers from the far and recent past, who were also confronted with this problem in some way.

Plato, for instance, lived in a very busy town where “connectedness” was immediate: anyone could stop him in the street and start a conversation. To get some peace and quiet, he would walk to the countryside, i.e., he created a distance between him and the connected world.

After discussing several more philosophers and their problems (and solutions) with increasing connectedness, Powers gives the reader some guidelines that can be used in everyday life to make our connected lives less busy so they can spend more quality time in the here and now, either alone or with their friends and families.

Hamlet’s Blackberry: What I thought

Digital life makes great reading for me, but philosophy? In this case: yes! It helped that I recognised the problem of being connected much of the time, but the way the problems and solutions of the philosophers was discussed was interesting and not wishy-washy at all.

There was also a great deal of historical background which I found very interesting and even entertaining. Topping it all, was the story about the 15th Century Catholic Church where people could buy little mirrors that would absorb the rays that were emitted by holy objects present in the church. Taking these mirrors home, those people that could not go to church could still benefit from these rays by getting close to the mirrors. What a great medieval information saving device!

My only problem with the book was that it was not persuasive enough: I agree that there is a problem and Powers’ solutions are sensible and easy to carry out, but since reading the book, I have not heeded his advice and am online just as much as before. [While writing this post, I’ve checked Twitter a few times, both email accounts several times and I looked up something with Google. I also added some text in a Word document].

It’s an interesting read for anyone who deals with the internet and social media on a daily basis. Powers’ advice is useful and I’m sure many people would benefit form his suggestions on how to simplify their busy connected life.

Rating: 4/5 stars

I got this book: from HarperCollins (Harper Perennial) for review

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 267

First published: 2010 (reprint August 2011)

Genre: non-fiction, philosophy, digital connecteness


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

13 Responses to Book Review: Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers

  1. This does sound really interesting. I’ll have to check it out.

  2. Rikki says:

    This sounds like a book a lot of us should read. However, just like you, I wouldn’t take his advice probably.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Rikki, the internet is so addictive, it’s hard to let go. But I do sometimes close the lid and do something else for a few hours. But that’s not because of the book. 🙂

  3. Thanks for your thoughts on this…. I think it sounds interesting!

    (oh and yes, I am back on My Fitness Pal – camp made it impossible but I am home now) 🙂

  4. I am not sure I get the title though. If Hamlet lived today, he would definitely be on facebook, twitter and all over.

    • Leeswammes says:

      No, it’s not obvious from what I wrote, Dorte. It has to do with a device (a type of book with washable pages) that was used in the time of Shakespeare to take notes.

  5. Amy says:

    This is an interesting concept and I find it fascinating that Powers effectively linked the “connectedness” issue today with the internet to philosophers such as Plato. I spend much of my day online with many different websites open, 3 email accounts, Twitter, FB etc. etc. Sometimes it’s a little overwhelming but I’ve never thought seriously about changing any of it!
    It’s too bad Powers doesn’t argue strongly enough for a solution to the problem he presents. It sounds like he was more interested in writing about the connections he made to philosophers and the problem of connectedness than solving it! Still it sounds interesting and I enjoyed your post.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Amy, in the last chapter Powers actually does practice what he preaches: in the weekends, his family disconnect internet every week now. They have more time for each other now and find life more easy going.

  6. Mystica says:

    Your review certainly got me thinking.

  7. Pingback: In conversation: William Powers (and a lightening fast breastfeed) « phd with kids

  8. Pingback: Boek recensie: Infominderen door Clay A. Johnson | De Boekblogger

I love comments! Let me know what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: