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

Hamlet's BlackBerry by William Powers
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Aug 08, 2011

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 been taking up far too much of my time, so when I saw this book offered for review by Harper Perennial, I jumped at it. And I'm really glad I did. I was recommending this book before I'd even finished it.

The first part of the book is about how connected we are, and how this is causing stress and other problems in our lives. Powers uses personal anecdotes as well as general stories to illustrate his points, using himself and his family as examples to bring home the impact of all the screens in our lives, as he puts it. Being connected is a good thing, he says, but it's taking over our existence.

In part II, he explores seven thinkers and philosophers from history, from Plato to McLuhan, and how they dealt with changing technologies in their times. Being overwhelmed by the crowd, as new technologies bring them into our homes and lives, is nothing new. What's interesting is how they managed to integrate these technologies into their daily lives without letting them take over, and how that pertains to us now. Then, as now, there was often a backlash against new tech. An example Powers uses is the recent resurgence of the popularity of Moleskine notebooks (of which I am also a fan: I love carrying around a little notebook to write snippets in as I think of them). Something that would have been high tech a few hundred years ago is now retro cool, and that's a good thing.

The last part of the book is about putting into practice ways to break away from the addiction to screens, both computers and smartphones. As an experiment, he and his family declare weekends to be Digital Sabbaths (something the Rowdy Kittens website calls Digital Sabbaticals), when the modem is unplugged and mobile phones turned off. It takes them a while to get used to it, but eventually it's something they all look forward to, and it makes them closer as a family.

This is something I'd like to put into practice myself: make at least one day per week a connection-free day, and not go online at all. I spend far too much time checking Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, and now Google+ multiple times per day. And I don't even have a smartphone! It would be ten times worse, I'm sure, if I did. And yet, I still want one. I find it annoying when people I'm with keep checking their phones, yet would I be like that if I had one? Probably.

I do make a conscious effort to step away from the computer when I'm at home, going out for walks or into the living room to read or write (on paper, with a pen, even!). But as soon as I get home, or finish a chapter, I'm back at the screen, checking email or what have you. It truly is an addiction. I feel like this book has given me the tools to break that addiction, or at least manage it.

What I liked best about this book is its emphasis on creating and maintaining human interactions, with depth and connection you can't get in the small, quick world of the screens. You can make deep and lasting connections with people online, but don't forget the flesh-and-blood humans in your life as well. And don't forget to stop and smell the roses.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Bob (new)

Bob Koelle I'm glad I survived the Great FB Purge!

Elizabeth Of course! You're family! :)

message 3: by Deb (new) - added it

Deb Thanks for the thoughtful review! I wasn't sure this was one for my "to read" list, but I think I will give it a whirl!

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