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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age » User review

Raspberries, raspberries

  • Jul 29, 2010
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Rating:
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William Powers believes that the billion or so of us who are networked via digital devices are so mindlessly addicted to the experience that we need a game plan for escape. He depicts us as so absorbed in our instant gratification that we have abandoned the depth of experience and relationships that give life meaning.

One can't avoid the impression that he must be the sort of person who compulsively answers the phone when it rings, responds to e-mails no matter how puerile, and keeps the TV on 24/7. It's astonishing he found time to write a book.

The problems with his hypothesis are legion--starting from his purpose in writing a book. Book readers represent a very tiny demographic, and we are inclined toward depth of understanding and involvement. Even readers who read on digital devices are not endlessly surfing the Web--at least while they are engaged with the text at hand.

Next, the author doesn't account for where the new networked time has come from. TV viewership is falling as people switch from passive consumption of media to the role of creation. Millions of blogs, read or unread, represent the active effort of bloggers who are arguably far more deeply introspective about their lives than couch potatoes channel surfing between reruns of "Happy Days" and "Mad Men."

Powers acknowledges the time savings garnered in use of a cell phone versus a phone booth, and allows that ten minutes here and there might add up, but dismisses its significance. In actuality, the networked world is completely rearranging our use of time and inexorably ramping up productivity. The reason we haven't garnered more "free" time has everything to do with corporate politics which has diverted the newfound wealth to the rich while impoverishing the rest. If workers were accorded even a quarter of the excess wealth productivity gains have achieved in the past few decades, we'd be looking at 20 hour work weeks instead of 60.

To the extent that many people feel frantic about the monetary import of their networked lives, urgently attempting to close deals, move up the employment ladder, gain upward mobility and provide more security for their families, they are driven by the imperatives of a class war they have been losing since the Reagan era. As Powers correctly notes, don't blame the technology.

Unfortunately, Powers blames his straw people, so consumed with the titillation of instanteneity that they are unable to ponder the real meaning of life.

That said, the author's historical insight into past incursions of information technology, from the musings of Plato to Shakespeare to McLuhan, offers food for thought. That is, of course, if you are a reader and not an electric sheep.

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More Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practic... reviews
review by . May 09, 2011
For some of us, living our lives connected to the digital world is a normal occurrence. I can reach anyone at any time, and others can reach me. But is that healthy? Should I step back and take the time to be unplugged? These questions are explored in William Powers' book Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. I joke about the fact that I can leave the Internet any time I want... I just don't want to yet. But there's some good food …
review by . April 24, 2011
Everywhere you turn, you hear someone ask "How are you?" Usually, the response is some variation of "Busy, very busy." It is so prevalent that an anecdote in Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age is a real eye opener. A recent immigrant to the United States heard it so often, it was assumed to be a proper reply to the question. Living in the Digital Age, you are connected all the time; you have a screen in front of you nearly …
review by . October 12, 2010
I was going to simply say that I get much of the same message I found in "Hamlet's Blackberry" from several of the blogs I read, but maybe that could be seen as missing the point. If you need a book reference or two instead, how about Everett Bogue's The Art of Being Minimalist: How to Stop Consuming and Start Living or Leo Babauta's forthcoming print and e-book "Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction." The point is that author William Powers' essential recommendation -- unplug! …
review by . May 29, 2010
How can we balance staying "in touch" without being overwhelmed by never being out of touch? Moving between the "alpha" of "less crowded, more focused" inner-directed concentration or "flow" in the moment, and the "omega" of being wired, linked, virtual, Powers surveys seven thinkers who dealt with their era's equivalents of "screens," our "connective digital devices" of the past two decades.    Plato writes down "Phaedrus," Socrates orally delivered dialogue addressing the new …
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Cecil Bothwell ()
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Our discombobulated Internet Age could learn important new tricks from some very old thinkers, according to this incisive critique of online life and its discontents. Journalist Powers bemoans the reigning dogma of digital maximalism that requires us to divide our attention between ever more e-mails, text messages, cellphone calls, video streams, and blinking banners, resulting, he argues, in lowered productivity and a distracted life devoid of meaning and depth. In a nifty and refreshing turn, he looks to ideas of the past for remedies to this hyper-modern predicament: to Plato, who analyzed the transition from the ancient technology of talking to the cutting-edge gadgetry of written scrolls; to Shakespeare, who gave Hamlet the latest in Elizabethan information apps, an erasable notebook; to Thoreau, who carved out solitary spaces amid the press of telegraphs and railroads. The author sometimes lapses into mysticism—In solitude we meet not just ourselves but all other selves—and his solutions, like the weekend-long Internet Sabbaths he and his wife decreed for their family, are small-bore. But Powers deftly blends an appreciation of the advantages of information technology and a shrewd assessment of its pitfalls into a compelling call to disconnect.(July)
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Details

ISBN-10: 0061687162
ISBN-13: 978-0061687167
Author: William Powers
Genre: Computers & Internet, Science, Nonfiction
Publisher: Harper
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