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You Can Have A Balanced Life, Away from the Crowds

  • Apr 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 24 hours a day, whether it be computer, notebook, smart phone, mobile phone, tablet, e-reader. Take a moment and pry your eyes from the screen and look around; wherever you are, there are others engrossed in their screens. Certainly, earlier civilization was never this connected nor were they are busy as you are currently. William Powers, in Hamlet's BlackBerry, uses the past to help you strike a balance with the digital present and in doing so, allow your mind to wander free of technological intrusions.

Contents: Prologue; Introduction; Busy, Very Busy: In a Digital World, Where's the Depth?; Hello, Mother: The Magic of Screens; Gone Overboard: Falling Out with the Connected Life; Solutions That Aren't: The Trouble with Not Really Meaning It; Walking to Heaven: Plato Discovers Distance; The Spa of the Mind: Seneca on Inner Space; Little Mirrors: Gutenberg and the Business of Inwardness; Hamlet's BlackBerry: Shakespeare on the Beauty of Old Tools; Inventing Your Life: Ben Franklin on Positive Rituals; The Walden Zone: Thoreau on Making the Home a Refuge; A Cooler Self: McLuhan and the Thermostat of Happiness; Not So Busy: Practical Philosophies for Every Day; Disconnectopia: The Internet Sabbath; Afterword: Back in the Room; Acknowledgements; Notes; Further Reading

As you lament your connectedness, you probably believe that this is a new human condition. Powers goes back through history to show that this is not a unique position. Starting with Plato, and the rise of the written word, in the fifth century B.C., Socrates was lamenting that people would forget what they learned, relying solely on the written word; they would simply look up that which they needed. This would cause people to lose a free flow of ideas, which they had when engaging people in oral arguments.

Or what about one of the prevailing thoughts shortly after Gutenberg developed a printing press using movable type? Books were made more quickly, were priced cheaply, An Italian scholar decided that this was a menace. " . . . Anyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment . . . they twist and corrupt it to the point where it would be be much better to do without such books . . . " It's almost laughable to think that there were detractors of this innovation, which democratized reading. Even with the popularity of e-readers, the book will not disappear, for it has continues to allow us to disconnect from a screen, to take our experience inward.

Hamlet's BlackBerry is full of interesting and thought provoking references. While others believe that paper is vanishing, like the author, I jot notes, ideas, in my Moleskin. It's much more personal, easier to use and navigate than a screen. It also allows for a connection that cannot be made when employing a screen. It says, to the people in the meeting, "You idea was important, it needs to be written down." To me, there is a connection between the thought and the physical act of writing. Because it has been written, there is more power attached to the thought. It exists, physically.

William Powers' Hamlet's BlackBerry provides the reader with the methods to achieve a balanced life. Provided you aren't too busy to read it.

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April 26, 2011
This sounds like a great read, especially given how wired everyone is nowadays! Thanks for sharing.
April 28, 2011
You're welcome! I did enjoy it, but then this isn't the first book I read on disconnecting. Powers advocates an "Internet Sabbath" which he and his family take from Friday night to Monday morning. Liberating, but, some would say, drastic. It is effective. :-)
April 29, 2011
I love the idea of an Internet Sabbath, I think I'm going to have to take one but, it'll probably be one day since I'm in school, planning a wedding and working 60 hours. By the end of the week, if I can get any time away from the computer, I jump at it. When I have kids, I think that I will definitely enforce that as well!
April 26, 2011
Oh man, I need this book BAD! :P Great review, Gregg!
April 28, 2011
Thanks. While there are many people that *should* read it, I fear few will; they'll say their "too busy." :-)
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 . 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 …
review by . July 29, 2010
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, …
About the reviewer
Gregg Eldred ()
Ranked #72
It never ceases to amaze me how many doors have opened up for me since I started reviewing the books I read. Publishers now send me free books to read and review. Authors contact me. Kind folks at Lunch … more
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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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ISBN-10: 0061687162
ISBN-13: 978-0061687167
Author: William Powers
Genre: Computers & Internet, Science, Nonfiction
Publisher: Harper
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