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The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection
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The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  1,447 ratings  ·  261 reviews
Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the Internet. What does this unavoidable fact mean?

For future generations, it won't mean anything very obvious. They will be so immersed in online life that questions about the Internet's basic purpose or meaning will vanish.

But those of us who have lived both with and without the crowded connectivity of online life have a rare
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 30th 2014 by Current (first published August 5th 2014)
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3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,447 ratings  ·  261 reviews

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Brigid Schulte
Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
In praise of solitude and reverie. I had the privilege of reading this book early. Fascinating. Troubling. Insightful. Hopeful.

I read it, ironically, on a long cross country flight, underlining and making notes, loving the Wordsworth and Rilke quotations, as my 13-year-old daughter, thankfully too tired to play games on the iPad I keep trying to pry out of her fingers, slept on my lap and the woman next to me about crawled out of her skin when the battery died on her laptop and she could no lon
Jul 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: first-reads
(Disclaimer: I received this as a "First Reads" book from Current Penguin.) There's a very fine quote from the final pages of Michael Harris's book that I believe is worth sharing:

"This book is a meditation more than a prescription. There are no ten easy steps to living a healthy digital life; there is no totalizing theory, no maxim, with which we can armor ourselves. Nor is digital abstinence the answer, absolutely refusal being just another kind of dependence after all. Easy fixes are for easy
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, non-fiction
This is a fascinating discourse on technology versus pretechnology, the twentieth century--back when we experienced things for real. the days when we had to rely on ourselves for knowledge not our phones. Harris has researched memory and neuroscience citing studies which show what we have lost through our dependence on Google and other search engines while stating the huge advantages of such learning tools. This is the modern sequel to A Room of One's Own; as a writer needs a quiet place to writ ...more
Oct 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I am part of the last generation that will remember life without personal computing devices. Like the author, when I went to Europe the day after high school graduation, I was completely cut off from all communication from home...and it was wonderful. What have we lost with the sense of splendid isolation and lone creativity now relegated to only the intentionally remote? Why do we have to be connected at all times? How does this degrade the quality of discourse and thought? How do relationships ...more
Mikey B.
Aug 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is foremost an eloquently written book. It is about the internet; and by internet I mean all forms of communication with the outside world using cell phones, tablets, lab-tops and the rapidly disappearing desktop (doubtless I have over-looked some newer one but as I rapidly approach sixty this should be excusable). Like the internet, this book crosses several boundaries, and unlike the internet, overall it is erudite.

There are many basic themes the author dwells on. One is that for the time
Micah McCarty
Dec 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite nonfiction read of the year. I constantly struggle with social media and it's effects in our lives. Some of the change is inevitable and I feel like a curmudgeon trying to fight against it. This book did a tremendous job of discussing many of the issues I think about. For example, social media has shifted the way we experience anything. The shift is so great that an event no longer feels valid unless we have taken a picture and posted it to instagram or FB. There is the const ...more
Aug 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
A great meditation on what we've lost with what we've gained. I was an early reader and I highly recommend that you unplug and give this a deep read.

And then you can plug in again.
Bob Schnell
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Advance Reading Copy review Publication date 8/7/2014

The End of Absence is the author's exploration of how the Internet and endless connectivity are changing our lives in terms of social interaction and personal quiet time. It is not a "how to disconnect" guide or a cranky criticism of the loss of techno-innocence. It is simply one man trying to capture this fleeting moment in history when people who remember a time without the Internet have to share the planet with those that have only known su
Sandra Ross
Jan 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An excellent, thought-provoking, and highly-readable analysis of how constant connection to all our digital devices and technology has not only rewired the neuroplasty of our brains, but also has eliminated "lack" (not knowing something and having to manually learn about it, increasing our knowledge and understanding) and "absence" (solitude, quiet, and peace, all of which are necessary to critically think, to plan, to dream, to innovate, to create, and to reflect on ourselves and life in a mean ...more
Oliver Brackenbury
Oct 10, 2014 rated it liked it
I'm glad I read this book, however it required my powering through about the first third. This is essentially a longer version of a kind of think piece that's been doing the rounds for a while now and sometimes suffers for it. Opening with a short story about an isolated tribe of indigenous people who don't know the magic of cellphones etc, for example.


Harris does indeed take advantage of a book's greater wordcount to find some additional depth to the issue of absence. I think he has a very i
Oct 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I picked this up from the "new arrivals" shelf at my local library and it turned out to be exactly what I needed right now. There are so many parts I could quote, but I'll hold back and instead just offer my wholehearted recommendation to those who, like me, are part of the in-between generation that remembers and occasionally longs for the time before the internet took over our everyday lives. Michael Harris doesn't advocate for or against technology, but ultimately cautions us that "every tech ...more
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
In Walden, Thoreau wrote, "Our inventions are....pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at." Harris' book is very good discussion of how we have let our digital inventions squeeze out what is left of our time, not allowing us to take a breath and evaluate what we're doing to ourselves besides adding stress and superficiality to everyday life. Silence and solitude have been ...more
Emily Crow
Aug 01, 2014 rated it liked it
An exploration of the effects of the Internet (and related mobile devices) on our society and psyches, this book is at once interesting and frustrating. I think the author brings up a lot of good issues, and I can't deny that the Internet has been yet another blow to our collective attentions spans and critical thinking skills, but I felt like he missed the forest for the trees--too much focus on particular apps or websites (like Timehop and Grindr) at the expense of the bigger picture. For exam ...more
Nikki Stafford
Jan 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a really interesting look at a particular moment in time, as viewed by a particular generation of people (that includes me): those born before 1985, but who now find the internet part of their everyday lives, whether it's through email or social media or texting. We are the generation that can remember a time when we didn't have these things, and yet are now happily consumed by those things while simultaneously saying we hate it. I really enjoyed the book, and he had some great examples ...more
Jul 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
The reflections of the only generation who will know life with and without the internet, this waxes (but also wanes) poetic. There are some lovely reflections in here about the absences we have lost in our lives: the quiet times, the idle daydreaming, the time away from loved ones. And Michael Harris hasn't written some screed about these losses proposing unlikely projects to reverse them. He accepts them with the kind of melancholic awareness that we reserve for those things we can never reclai ...more
Jul 28, 2014 rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book, to embrace its message wholeheartedly, but I found it a bit too much of Chicken Little crossed with get-off-my-lawn. Maybe my world is small, but I'm not seeing over-absorbed kids attached to their tiny computers, never climbing trees or exploring the world. I don't find it that hard to detach from online life and be in a moment. Obviously, reading books isn't a problem for me. It felt like Harris wanted to universalize problems that really were just personal.

Aug 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is a lovely, thoughtful meditation about what has been lost, and can never be regained in the current technological world. Contrary to the title, the author does not offer suggestions about how to reclaim absence; rather, this book is almost an elegy to simpler times. I think older readers - as the author says, those born before 1985, who have lived as adults in a world without the internet -- will enjoy this book most, though it is a bit poignant.
Oct 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
I've talked about, recommended and pulled parts of this book away to think more about since finishing it only a couple days ago -

why? Perhaps because it was for me a winning combination of a seemingly sincere journalistic rather than highbrow examination of ideas with a candid, even droll memoir - to me an irresistible pairing perfect for the subject matter !
Jan 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Technology is ubiquitous. Take a conscious break every so often. Live a real rather than virtual life.
SJ Loria
Jul 19, 2014 rated it liked it
There is a point in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where the author arrives to a city, and says something to the effect of “I could tell I was closer to a city because the houses were closer together and the people were farther apart.” There is something similar going on with our smartphones, people.
The End of Absence is a mix of a semi-scientific analysis of the benefits of absence and what we are losing as people in the shift to a digital world embedded into the story of ho
Douglas Greenshields
Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Unlike the follow-up book 'Solitude', which is clearly a rushed-off piece of work solely to fulfill a contract, 'The End Of Absence' is a thoughtful perambulation around the issue of what it is to be someone born in the few years before 1985, who have lived as adults both with and without the ubiquitous presence of the internet. It's sceptical rather than cynical, and combines discursion about neuroscience (especially recent experiments re neuroplasticity) with interviews of people running dopam ...more
Khulud Khamis
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book somehow appeared just at the right time, as I struggle with my own use of social media, mainly Facebook. It elucidates and makes clear what we're losing as we fill in every empty moment of our lives with senseless browsing of social media, as we gorge on too much information that is just that - too much information. Although I've been thinking about this issue quite a lot during the past couple of years, the book made it clear to me that I need to pay even more attention to this shift, ...more
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-reads
To our grandchildren and future generations -this constant connection will be normal, how it's always been, they won't know anything else. But if you are part of the "Straddle Generation", those who've lived in two worlds: before and after the digital high tech revolution, then you remember a different way of life. (We're a dying breed.). THE END OF ABSENCE--Reclaiming what we've lost in a world of constant connection -- is an entertaining read, and the author gives a most balanced view of both ...more
Jun 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Total word porn. This author had such a great vocabulary I never wanted to put the book down! Obviously a topic that should be of interest to everyone. Growing up in the late 80's and 90's, I felt this book was even more relevant to me than it would be to a younger generation, but still, a good read for anyone interested in how we manage this new norm of technology.
Olha Izhyk
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
змусила задуматися, що я таки дійсного з того покоління, яке ще пам‘ятає життя до інтернету. і нагадала, яким воно було. корисне чтиво, наштовхує на цікаві роздуми
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book gives you pause for thought, that's for sure. Things certainly have changed since the turn of the century, and at lightening speed, too. How to "adapt or die" is still the big question. Now you pay with your attention and everyone and everything is clamoring for it. How you navigate your way through this new digital world with infinite information and connection to the rest of humanity at your fingertips and retain some semblance of comfort with not knowing is definitely something wort ...more
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
One might think this is another anti-technology book or another author that tries to convince you that you should somehow go back to pre-Internet days, but it's really not so. As the author himself puts it, it's a meditation. A meditation on things we've gained and things we've lost, with some interesting research findings in neuroscience and background information on different digital platforms and projects.
Aug 05, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: sustainability
Advance Reader Copy Review for Publication August 7, 2014

Like all of us reading this review and this book, I'm plugged in. But I'm not going to be unplugged. Absence (in this case the absence of the technological marvel of the internet) is not something I am interested in or hope to achieve or can fathom imploring anyone to do.

Harris leaps into leaving the internet behind, even briefly or just to read a book, with disbelief in his capacity to accomplish. He skitters and scatters around the idea
Nov 13, 2014 rated it did not like it
Complain complain complain complain From Amazon's page: "Every revolution in communication technology—from papyrus to the printing press to Twitter—is as much an opportunity to be drawn away from something as it is to be drawn toward something. And yet, as we embrace technology's gifts, we usually fail to consider what we're giving up in the process."
From the page and the hype I had assumed this would be more about how to regain and cut ourselves away from constantly checking our emails and mes
Jul 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
My Review

I have no patience for people who speak about the internet as a doomsday phenomenon and only focus on its faults. So I appreciated the author's tone, who spent most of his time focused on what is changing with the age of the internet and what will be lost without pretending like there aren't real benefits to be had. He was also able to put into words and label a lot of the phenomenon I've noticed about the new internet world but didn't quite know how to describe.

My favorite chapter was
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Michael Harris is the author of The End of Absence (2014) and Solitude (2017). He writes about the social aspects of technology and about civil liberties. His essays have been included in several anthologies. Michael lives in Vancouver with the artist Kenny Park.
“we aren’t lonely because we are alone; we are lonely because we have failed in our solitude.” 7 likes
“When we grip our phones and tablets, we’re holding the kind of information resource that governments would have killed for just a generation ago. And is it that experience of everyday information miracles, perhaps, that makes us all feel as though our own opinions are so worth sharing? After all, aren’t we—in an abstracted sense, at least—just as smart as everyone else in the room, as long as we’re sharing the same Wi-Fi connection? And therefore (goes the bullish leap in thinking) aren’t my opinions just as worthy of trumpeting?” 5 likes
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