Hamlet’s Blackberry is for busy people who spend way too much time online. I’m one of them.
My son gave me the book for Father’s Day. As a 25-year-old digital native, he knows of my struggle to balance my digital and face-to-face lives. I’m way too dependent on my screens, and I don’t even have a smart phone!
Author William Powers has battled digital demons as well. As he relates his own experiences, you’ll see yourself. While digital connectedness improves our lives in so many ways, it also promotes a shorter attention span and lack of focus. It can rob us of the time we need to think deeply, to analyze, to assess, to create.
Most of us have yet to strike a balance.
For the always connected, the world resembles the fast lane of the Autobahn — an efficient and exhilarating trip, but lacking the richness of a slow drive in the country or a leisurely hike in the woods.
How to change it. If you’re seeking ways to better control an over-connected life, Powers can help you. In the last 25 pages of the book, he explains you how he reordered his own life by shutting off the Internet connection on weekends, designating “Walden Zones” in his home, and plenty more.
But resist the temptation jump ahead. Because the important stories and the real lessons of “Hamlet’s Blackberry” lie in Part II. If you skip Powers’ journey, the destination won’t make much sense.
A new philosophy. “Hamlet’s Blackberry” can be a bit meandering at times. Philosophy is like that. But since Powers is a seasoned journalist and storyteller, his digressions are easy to access and insightful more often than not.
In Part II, Powers examines how some of civilization’s great thinkers have coped with disruptive technologies. Turns out, they each had something akin to a Blackberry.
He begins with the writings of Plato and the lessons of his teacher, Socrates. While there were no digital screens in 2,500 B.C., there was a new technology, something known as written language. Socrates was no fan of writing, viewing it as insular and one-dimensional. We know this, because Plato wrote it down.
From the writings of Plato and the experiences of Socrates, Powers shows us how distancing oneself from the crowd enhances our depth of thought and understanding.
Other great thinkers who wrestled with Blackberry-like demons were the Roman philosopher Seneca, adviser to a young Emperor Nero (before the whole fiddle thing), Guttenberg, Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Henry David Thoreau, and Marshall McLuhan. In telling these stories, Powers helps us see that over-communication, and the distractions it creates, isn’t a new phenomenon.
Busy, busy, busy. Aren’t we all? But as Powers points out, that busyness is largely of our own making. Sure, the nature of 24-7 technologies means we can’t really “leave it at the office.” But much of the time we spend online isn’t really about work, is it?
We could blame our bosses, or the promoters of technology — Bill Gates for perpetual connectivity, or Research In Motion for giving us the Crackberry. But there’s nothing inherently bad about devices that provide instant access to valuable content. They’re helpful. Very helpful.
Like fine Congac, the problem lies in overuse and abuse.
I’m older than the typical Crackberry addict. I learned keyboard skills on a Royal manual typewriter, and I still don’t use the speed dial on my cell phone. So it shouldn’t surprise you that a this quote from Powers’ book caught my attention. It’s by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, from his commencement address at Penn in 2009.
Turn off your computer. You’re actually going to have to turn off your phone and discover all that is human around us. Nothing beats holding the hand of your grandchild as he walks his first steps.
That, my friends, is what being “connected” is all about. And it doesn’t require a screen.
Trust me. I’m a grandpa.
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