Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age
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Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age

3.55 of 5 stars 3.55  ·  rating details  ·  1,035 ratings  ·  236 reviews
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 so...more
Hardcover, 267 pages
Published June 29th 2010 by HarperCollins
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William Cline
Hamlet's BlackBerry disappointed me. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains is a more detailed, better written, and more convincing description of "information overload" and how current electronic media affect our minds and our lives.

Having spent the first part of the book describing the problem, Powers sets up the second part to be a tour through the ideas and philosophies of seven great thinkers, from Plato to Benjamin Franklin, each with advice to offer on establishing a balan...more
Lauren Albert
A thoughtful, non-alarmist view of the negative effects of technology with some thoughts on how to mediate them. After having recently read, "The Shallows" which was maddening, this was refreshing. There was nothing terribly new in it but I was glad to see a take on the subject from someone who clearly uses and loves new technology. I was pleased to see him use McLuhan in a different way then Carr--he quotes Kevin McMahon, "the optimistic side of McLuhan's message is: You've built these things,...more
If nothing else, this book affirmed me.

I don't blog, I don't do Facebook or Twitter. I don't own an iAnything (pod, pad, phone). My cell phone is just that-- a phone. No internet capabilities, save a computer at home.
And I'm perfectly fine with all of it, thank you very much.

Powers takes our society's massive obsession/addiction to "being connected" down to its core: the fact that we have to "accept our fundamental separateness from others. Happiness is about knowing how to enjoy one's own compa...more
Blessed are thee to have friends who send emails, IMs, FB messages and text messages.

Yet with it comes the feeling that you have to constantly check them to keep connected.

If you ever feel even slightly overwhelmed by it all, this book will make you realize that this is not just a 21st Century problem. It goes back as far as Plato (with the written word), Gutenberg (with the printed word), Shakespeare (with handheld devices - read the book to understand what "tables" are), Thoreau (with rail an...more
This book made some fantastic points, but in many cases I thought it was repetitive and slow. If it had been edited down to something a bit more concise, I would have enjoyed it more.

What I appreciated most about this book was the way Powers points to history and literature to illustrate the problems and solutions we currently face in the "digital age".

Ever thought about how distressing the arrival of the written word must have been to a previously oral culture? Even the ancients had to find wa...more
Todd Wheeler
Do our electronic devices serve us or do we serve them? I've been asking this question for some years and have felt it was more the latter than the former. "Hamlet's BlackBerry" details how this question has been asked for over 2,000 years.

If there is any doubt that there is a problem, let's take this quote from the book regarding regaining focus on a task when one has been interrupted: "By some estimates, recovering focus can take ten to twenty times the length of the interruption. So a one-min...more
Iowa City Public Library
As you read this review, how many other programs are open on your computer? Your email, perhaps, and possibly the Library’s catalog, and probably there’s a Google search box just a click away. Is your mobile phone (how smart is it?) nearby, maybe on your belt or in your pocket, with you alert to the next beep or vibration signaling an incoming message? And if any part of this is true, does it make you happy or does it cause a little distraction, maybe even a little stress?

Hamlet’s BlackBerry dis...more
Sadly I find myself in the crosshairs of Hamlet's BlackBerry, a book which dissects modern society's fascination with connectedness and the toll it takes on our productivity and personal lives. William Powers' thesis is familiar to all smartphone-toting Westerners though he points out that the desire to escape the busyness of daily life is not new. Powers cleverly weaves the struggles and ideas of philosophers from Socrates to modern-day McLuhan in dealing with technological innovations that cha...more
Not your run of the mill book, that's for sure. It concerns itself with the curses of the digital age and how to deal with it. The chapters in the middle were particularly interesting to me, which explain parallels from history to today's digital (esp. internet) busyness; for example, it describes Henry David Thoreau's experiments in finding a quiet zone at Walden, just over a mile from busy Concord, at the dawn of the telegraph age. (I can remember reading a Wodehouse book sometime ago in which...more
Todd Nemet
This book was a very thoughtful Xmas gift from someone I work with.

I've had an email account since 1984 and a cell phone since 1994, but I've never really thought that hard or systematically about what being connected electronically means to my life. I've always gone with the flow and upgraded to the latest gadgets, assuming that more features and more connectivity is unquestionably a good thing.

This book is important because it provides a set of mental constructs and historical reference points...more
John Pappas
The premise of William Powers’ book, Hamlet’s Blackberry is sound – each major shift in information technology (i.e. scroll to codex, radio to television, etc.) both roils the status quo, engenders a new way of looking at the world, perhaps even a new way of thinking, and perhaps requires new strategies to deal with the resulting information – but his writing is too loose and anecdotal, and several of his connections are specious at best. Examining Plato, Cicero, Hamlet (?), Thoreau, McLuhan and...more
Picked this up after I spotted the catchy title. I think most people would agree with this book's premise: we're so connected to our digital devices we're losing connectedness with our inner selves and our families. Recent books like The Shallows also address the fact that we are constantly moving between tasks like reading email, surfing the web, twittering, answering text messages, IM'ing and that is affecting the way our brains are processing information and it's turning us into a society of...more
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 watchin...more
This is an extremely important and valuable book, if for no other reason than to confirm to me that I am *not* crazy, that our headlong rush into more and more digital connectedness is not necessarily a good thing--it's confirmation of my feelings these last few years. And like the author, I'm not an anti-techie. I LIKE having a cell phone and email. When used in the proper proportions, I think the digital world does enhance my life.
But there is a point past which it makes me crazy instead. And...more
First off, I'll admit. This book fell plague to a weird thing that happens to non-fiction books that I read. I'll call it the start/stop scenario. Not the books fault, but it didn't grip me enough to rip through (and then bookclub books had to take it's place). So I'd start, get moving, and then stop.

This also happens when I find that a book has quite a bit to ponder. Meaning, I don't want to RIP through it, because that would defeat the purpose of learning and processing the information.

So I s...more
I've been feeling overwhelmed lately by the demands of the various online communities and social networking sites to which I belong. Well, not just lately; a few months ago, I actually did a major purge of Facebook, 'unfriending' everyone to whom I didn't feel I had a real connection. It was over 200 people, which boggles the mind. Two hundred people I had 'friended' just to, what? I wasn't sure. Which is why I cut them loose. I haven't missed a single one.

But still, my digital, online life has...more
This book was so easy to read and thoughtful about our technological revolution. Not only does he explain what it's like to live within the "crowd" of social media, constant email and internet, but Powers also goes through the history of philosophers of different centuries who struggled with the latest technology in their culture. It was really comforting to know that in Shakespeare's day, people had something they called "tables" that they carried around the way we now carry Blackberry-s. Power...more
An easy and enjoyable read about the importance of carving out quiet, disconnected-from-technology time in our hectic lives. Powers points out that the struggle to find balance between the addictive rush resulting from being surrounded by constant stimuli of ever-churning people, conversations, ideas, news, gossip, etc.. and quiet, reflective time is nothing new. Indeed, he recounts the learnings and teachings of historical figures such as Socrates and Seneca on precisely this issue. The need fo...more
Great read!

"We've effectively been living by a philosophy, albeit an unconscious one. It holds that (1) connecting via screens is good, and (2) the more you connect, the better. I call it Digital Maximalism, because the goal is maximum screen time. Few of us have decided this is a wise approach to life, but let's face it, this is how we have been living."

"Digital busyness is the enemy of depth."

"Part of what drives us back to the screen may be evolutionary programming. The human brain is wired t...more
Jed (John) Edwards
I heard the author at the Nantucket Athenaeum on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010. He's *not* a luddite, but a well-read and good-reasoning proponent of cultivating depth in one's inner life by disconnecting periodically from the "screens" (portals to the digital life in which our attention is increasingly fractured). Internet "sabbaths," as the author calls them, help him focus better attention on family, nature, and face-to-face relationships with neighbors and friends. Such breaks from being connected ca...more
Tyler Coon
At first, it was a very complicated read. I found myself reading paragraphs over and over again because I couldn't quite understand what Powers was trying to get across. but as you get through the first couple chapters, you start to understand what he is trying to say. "The screen" as Power's calls it, reflects on every single electronic device we use, varying from our cellphones to even our computer screens. my generation especially has grown up with this technology, and we literally treat our...more
Apr 02, 2014 Neil rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: media
Powers attempts to explain the sensation that there's something wrong with the fact that there's so much communication technology in use nowadays appears. He believes that there is indeed a problem that needs to be addressed, and believes that it's possible to address it by paying attention to philosophers or other prominent thought leaders of the past.

This historicising approach has its benefits. For one, it conveys that the nature of the issues faced in contemporary society are not new: they'v...more
Hamlet's Blackberry is turning out to be a very good book. I found myself agreeing with the author and thinking "yea, that's what has been bothering me but I didn't know how to articulate the problem." It was a little slow starting, somewhat repetitious, but the premise is relevant to the current state of affairs for me and most of my friends. The information in the second and third sections are inspiring me to make some changes in my relationship with all the screens and connective devices in m...more
Just took this out from the library -- there was a big waiting list! I heard William Powers on NPR talking about his family making the shift to an electronics free weekend. Hmmmmm.

I need a button for skimmed. The author says it all in his marvelous on-air interviews. When I got right down to it, it was one family's experience: interesting, thought-provoking but not what I expected. It fell short, for me, of the "voice" I had heard.
Feb 06, 2011 Vicky added it
I enjoyed reading this book -- although I really kind of skimmed some of the chapters. I enjoyed the connections Powers makes between classical philosophers and current concerns about how we use technology. The chapter on Thoreau was especially interesting since I read Walden every year with my high school students. It was a great way to make Thoreau more relevant to them. I think this is a book I will dip back into over time.
Expected more, mostly light and fluffy, an easy read, some fascinating trivia at times, lots of unnecessary waffle, occasionally some flashes of brilliance, the chapter on "a cooler self " / McLuhan etc was particularly good IMO .
Mike Smart
Thought provoking analysis of the pros and cons of our connectedness, with comparisons to similar points in history. This was a particularly timely read for me, as our kids just got iPhones and much of my work involves integrating technology into education. Maybe because I've already spent a lot of time thinking about the topic, some of the content was fairly obvious to me, but I was impressed nonetheless with a number of viewpoints I hadn't considered yet.

I'd give it five stars except that ulti...more
A.M.  Bradley
I had to read this for school last year and I was surprised. I'm glad to see this being incorporated into regular English school curriculum. It was a different summer read because it wasn't fiction, instead, straight quotes from philosophers and further discussion of each separate viewpoint/idea on how technology has and continues to change our world. I liked the approach in terms of educating an audience about our ever changing digital age and how face to face communication is withering, but it...more
This was a pretty interesting book. The first part did not grab me. I trudged through thinking that I just had to read it for book club, but the the second part opened up for me. The second part went into the history of new ways of communicating from writing to the blackberry and what different philosophers thought about the new tools. So basically, we have been here before. Every time a new communication tool came about there were the nay sayers and the overzealous. It takes a while, but humans...more
Hamlet's Blackberry is a philosophical reflection on communication by William Powers. He begins with some vignettes on the digital age then looks to other times of change in human communication and connectedness through a number of specific characters. He closes by pulling advice from those stories and sharing his family's solution to the dilemma of over-connectedness.

I agree with many other reviewers that the middle section...the portion looking at historical figures dealing with technology of...more
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William Powers hails from Long Island, NY and has worked for over a decade in development aid and conservation in Latin America, Africa, Washington, D.C., and Native North America. From 2002 to 2004 he managed the community components of a project in the Bolivian Amazon that won a 2003 prize for environmental innovation from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. His essays and commentari...more
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“In a multi-tasking world where pure focus is harder and harder to come by, paper’s seclusion from the Web is an emerging strength. There’s nothing like holding a sheaf of beautifully designed pages in your hands. The whole world slows down, and your mind with it.” 7 likes
“Someday, it will be hard to remember why we were once so fired up about 3G connectivity and the wonders of mobile broadband. Seamless, lightning-fast connectedness will be a given everywhere on Earth, and today's gadgets will be quaint museum pieces. At that point, all we'll care about is what kind of life these devices have created for us. And if it isn't a good life, we'll wonder what we did wrong.” 1 likes
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