Book Review: Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers
August 27, 2011 13 Comments
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