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Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age [Kindle Edition]

William Powers
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $14.99
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Book Description

“A brilliant and thoughtful handbook for the Internet age.” —Bob Woodward

“Incisive ... Refreshing ... Compelling.” —Publishers Weekly

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? Hamlet’s BlackBerry challenges the widely held assumption that the more we connect through technology, the better. It’s time to strike a new balance, William Powers argues, and discover why it's also important to disconnect. Part memoir, part intellectual journey, the book draws on the technological past and great thinkers such as Shakespeare and Thoreau. “Connectedness” has been considered from an organizational and economic standpoint—from Here Comes Everybody to Wikinomics—but Powers examines it on a deep interpersonal, psychological, and emotional level. Readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Outliers will relish Hamlet’s BlackBerry.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Our discombobulated Internet Age could learn important new tricks from some very old thinkers, according to this incisive critique of online life and its discontents. Journalist Powers bemoans the reigning dogma of digital maximalism that requires us to divide our attention between ever more e-mails, text messages, cellphone calls, video streams, and blinking banners, resulting, he argues, in lowered productivity and a distracted life devoid of meaning and depth. In a nifty and refreshing turn, he looks to ideas of the past for remedies to this hyper-modern predicament: to Plato, who analyzed the transition from the ancient technology of talking to the cutting-edge gadgetry of written scrolls; to Shakespeare, who gave Hamlet the latest in Elizabethan information apps, an erasable notebook; to Thoreau, who carved out solitary spaces amid the press of telegraphs and railroads. The author sometimes lapses into mysticism—In solitude we meet not just ourselves but all other selves—and his solutions, like the weekend-long Internet Sabbaths he and his wife decreed for their family, are small-bore. But Powers deftly blends an appreciation of the advantages of information technology and a shrewd assessment of its pitfalls into a compelling call to disconnect. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Powers mounts a passionate but reasoned argument for ‘a happy balance’. . . . [He] is a lively, personable writer who seeks applicable lessons from great thinkers of the past. . . . Lucid, engaging prose and [a] thoughtful take on the joys of disconnectivity.”

Product Details

  • File Size: 406 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books; Reprint edition (June 16, 2010)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003MVZ5RC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #237,972 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
72 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Information overload - time for intervention June 1, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In this well-researched, thought-provoking book, Powers presents a sobering look at how we have let technology impact our views about the world and our relationship to it. Drawing parallels from paradigm-shifting events from the not-so-recent past (the written word in Plato's time, invention of the printing press), Powers employs some distilled (cherry-picked, one could argue) philosophical interpretations to define the current state ("digital maximism") and our evolving notions of connectedness (he argues that this evolution is mostly detrimental).

One cannot but admire the sheer amount of research and reflection that has shaped each chapter. The notions of distance (Plato), inner space (Seneca), "inwardness of technologies" (Gutenberg), embodied cognition and evolution of tools (Shakespeare), the power of positive rituals (Franklin), the need for Walden zones, and managing the quality of ones experience (inner thermostat - McLuhan) may seem disparate and disjointed to almost any reader. But Powers manages to convey a very powerful unifying theme, centered on an investigation of trying to characterize the impact of our gadget-centric life ("screens") by understanding how earlier generations have accommodated change. (while the investigation is mostly rooted in a philosophical framing, the underlying question of course is quite existential - how connected should we be?)

Powers' eagerness to impress upon us the craziness of our degree of connectedness to the "screens" and a constant reassurance that he is not against technology forces him to be repetitive at times. Despite the novel interpretations and arguments, Powers comes up short in addressing "what can one do to change behavior?".
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Was Shakespeare an Early Adopter? June 5, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Do you check for email several times an hour? When you go to quickly look up something online, do you find that as long as you're there you may as well check the news, the stock market, and that blog you like? Do you get antsy if your smart phone is out of reach for more than a few minutes?

Join the club, my friend. I'm addicted and so are you. In a nutshell, author William Powers says we must use the internet, social networks, and cellphones to our advantage and resist becoming slaves to them.

Powers examines how we can be connected, without being too connected. Our addiction to being connected is robbing us of productivity and creativity. But we can't quit cold turkey, surely that would be just as bad, if it's even possible.

The book is quite entertaining and thought provoking, especially the end, where Powers outlines his own family's experiment in breaking away from the yoke of the internet. They use their laptops and smartphones during the week, but turn everything off on Friday night and leave it off until Monday morning. It's hard at first, but they are surprised at how quickly they adapt, and at how quickly their friends and colleagues adapt to their not being available every minute. They find that assignments and emails can almost always wait until Monday. They enjoy the time together as a family, and individually they get more done and manage their time better.

Powers uses history and philosophy to make his arguments and put things into perspective. The "Hamlet's Blackberry" of the title is what was called a writing table or table book and consisted of some plaster-covered pages bound in a pocket-sized book. A metal stylus came with it and was used to write down notes or lists.
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79 of 95 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
William Power's Hamlet's Blackberry laments the death of distance created by modern technology. The distance that Power's discusses is between events and the depth of meaning that distance brings by providing time for reflection and meaning. Power's contention is that our need to be constantly connected to our `screens' is sapping the opportunity for use to find meaning in our lives.

I was intrigued by the title "Hamlet's Blackberry" as I found it clever and hoped the rest of the book would be as clever. In my view, it is not. The author has written a book about how modern technology saps away the essence of life - a topic that appears with every new technology from books to TV to the Internet and now constant connectivity.

Unfortunately, Power's advice after more than 200 pages is simple - define a time to unplug! That's it. If you already know that you need to either set-aside time when you are not connected or you have the power to ignore interruptions until you complete a complex task, then you do not need to read this book. That is the reason behind the 2 stars.

I do not recommend this book as it appears to be written more for the author than for the reader. I know that comment sounds harsh, but here are my reasons.

* The book professes to be a practical philosophy for building a good life in the digital age. It falls short of being a philosophy - more of an observation and directive to unplug periodically. The good life carries a lot of social baggage and I cannot support Power's assertion that just because you are connected, you will therefore live a diminished life.

* The book is repetitive, saying the same thing, sometimes almost letter for letter in various chapters.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much repetition.
The point the author is making is valid -- today's society is addicted to 'screens' and instant information-gratification. Read more
Published 26 days ago by P. Baird
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Just a book needed for college.
Published 1 month ago by Judith Royne
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read
Great book about the revolution of communication and transfer of knowledge! After reading you will want to try the digital Sabbath!
Published 3 months ago by W. Hoyt
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A must read for the connected era.
Published 3 months ago by Kente Master
4.0 out of 5 stars A Context for the Smart Screen Communications Revolution
By citing the Blackberry phone in the title the book shows its age a bit, since Blackberry is a disappearing brand. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Dennis A. Turner
3.0 out of 5 stars good history but ...
The rest is kind of like a review of the author's therapy sessions. Helpful but a little repetitive. Still a worthwhile read b
Published 5 months ago by Goldie
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastically Insightful and Practical
Powers cuts to the heart of the matter in a way readers instantly connect with and relate to. A must read for everyone contemplating getting back to a rich inner life.
Published 5 months ago by Thomas
4.0 out of 5 stars that we sometimes need an escape from our digital lives when we...
William Powers is a writer by trade who uses digital technology on a daily basis. Therefore his expertise in the subject of technology is not extremely high but this... Read more
Published 5 months ago by doobydoop
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Excellent and very informative. A cautionary and instructive book regarding life in the digital age.
Published 6 months ago by John R. Daubney
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
A little outdated, but still worth the read.
Published 6 months ago by Omar Ziadeh
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More About the Author


William Powers was born in Arizona and grew up in Rhode Island. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in history and literature. He began his journalism career at The Washington Post where in the 1990s he covered business, politics, popular culture and other subjects. His widely read Post column, The Magazine Reader, launched his career as a leading thinker and writer on life in the age of information.

His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, McSweeney's, The Guardian and many other publications. He is a two-time winner of the Arthur Rowse Award for best American media commentary.

In 2008 he began writing a book about how to live wisely and happily in a connected world. The result is Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age (HarperCollins, 2010), 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?

Powers challenges the widely held assumption that the more we connect through technology, the better. It's time to strike a new balance, he argues, and discover why it's also important to disconnect. Part memoir, part intellectual journey, the book draws on the technological past and such thinkers as Shakespeare, Thoreau and McLuhan.

Hamlet's BlackBerry is Powers' first book. He is married to author Martha Sherrill and they live in Massachusetts with their son.

For more information, visit his website:

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