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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

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  1,814 ratings  ·  311 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
Hardcover, 267 pages
Published June 29th 2010 by HarperCollins
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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 ·  1,814 ratings  ·  311 reviews

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May 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, meh
This is not a bad book for the right person.

I'm just not that person.

Hamlet's BlackBerry presents William Powers's case that we all need to unplug and allow for the pauses in our lives that are necessary to truly appreciate our relationships, our private selves, and our imaginations. After spending what, for me, is an unnecessary amount of time presenting an argument that quickly becomes redundant, he moves into a more interesting (but fairly surface) look at how new technologies throughout hist
William Cline
Feb 19, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Lauren Albert
Aug 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 08, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 12, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Todd N
Dec 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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
Todd Wheeler
Oct 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 09, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Susanne E
I think this book is for older people. I couldn't bring myself to share Powers' anxiety about how connectivity has changed his life, because I've had a laptop since I was 12 and all of my adult apartments have had wi-fi... the degree of connectivity has changed in my lifetime, and I definitely remember a time before the internet, but I'm firmly in the generation that has grown up with email and I think I've grown up knowing how to swim in the sea of the internet without freaking out.

I liked the
Jul 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Some good and practical advice in this book. I read it three or four years ago, and it's endlessly relevant.
Aug 05, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are more things in heaven and earth, Powers argues, than are dreamt of in our digital philosophy. I agree completely, although, as others have noted, the author doth protest too much, methinks, for those of us who already suspect that our devices hath power to assume a pleasing shape. We needed more matter with less art. Yet, thanks to its catchy title and the eponymous chapter that explains it, there’s a special appeal in this critique of connectedness. Meet it is I set it down, with addi ...more
Aug 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: media, digitalism
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
Aug 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
John Pappas
Sep 04, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jed (John) Edwards
Oct 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 11, 2010 rated it it was ok
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.
Nov 07, 2010 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.
Aug 11, 2013 rated it liked it
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 .
Rick Davis
On the surface this book may seem simplistic, but it's a great set of meditations on the effect of constant internet connection on human beings. I recommend it for anyone who, like me, works primarily on the internet. I'm recommending it for my online students as well.
Leigh Kramer
Jan 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Fascinating look at the intersection of technology and connection and how we can do better. Great food for thought, as well as insightful and practical suggestions.
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