Posted by annfinn on October 18, 2011
Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers, HarperCollinsPublishers, c2010
HM851 .P68 2010
Imagine this: you are in a door-less room , imprisoned with others who are always trying to get your attention. Sometimes what the others want to tell or show you is critically important—or at least interesting to you. But, much of the time the interruptions border on the trivial and banal. There’s no place where you can get away to relax, think, or concentrate on your most pressing needs. Stop imagining—because you live in just such an enclosed world. We all do! The current Internet/telecommunications completely-wired world is just such a place. There’s no escape from our ubiquitous screens (be they computer, smart phone, etc.) and their reach.
The latest publishing craze is the plethora of books bemoaning what our “screens” and our over-connectivity are doing to our lives. In Hamlet’s BlackBerry we now find a book that not only commiserates—but, also, offers suggestions to help handle the overload.
Recently, despite his best efforts, the author, William Powers, felt himself sinking under the pressure to keep in constant touch via IM, text, email, twitter, Facebook, etc. Web searches ate into what he used to call his “free time”. (Since the advent of the computer age, more access to computing power and shorter response times have been considered the most-desired of outcomes. More connectedness was always seen as a “good”. Yet, all that information has actually made it harder to be truly knowledgeable.) Powers noticed friends and family having difficulty keeping up with it all, too! It was almost as if busyness itself was becoming the whole point of life. There was a struggle going on at the center of Powers’ life for the center of his being.
Powers eventually realized that spending all one’s time connected to the crowd is a terrible idea. Human in-person interaction and depth of feeling were being seriously affected. Then, he began to wonder how people in past ages coped with new technology. After all, humans have adapted to the new for many centuries! History is replete with moments when an astonishing new invention suddenly made it easier for people to connect across time & space. This book is the author’s account of his research into past coping mechanisms and the possibilities of their use in the present or future.
The technology of screens is devised to focus our minds and lives outward instead of inward. If we are to achieve the depth of feeling & knowledge necessary for a valuable life, we need to short circuit the current trends. Powers believes with his coping mechanisms, it is possible to establish some distance between a person and the crowd, and he believes people can to use these skills to establish the necessary habits & processes– while the digital age is still young. Has Powell found Nirvana & solved all our over-connected-ness problems? No!! Could he have had an insight or two that you might find helpful in the future? Perhaps. You might want to check it out…
P.S.: By the way, Hamlet didn’t actually own a BlackBerry. You’ll find out what this fictional character used, instead, to keep track of his thoughts, when you read Powell’s book!