Top critical review
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A detailed discussion of the problem with a simple solution
on June 15, 2010
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. The consistent repetition across the book gives the impression that Power's wrote the book while being distracted/engaged in social media. Given the books premise and Power's credentials I would have expected a more thoughtfully constructed book.
* The answer to the book's premise is obvious, but the author feels that he needs to extend the discussion more than needed. This would have been a better monograph or article than a book. Its a perfect New Yorker article.
* The analysis basis for the book concentrates on personal observation and feeling. This book is a personal argument - a reflection rather than research. There is nothing wrong with that, but it would have been better positioned as a reflection.
* The book is preaching to the choir, people who read books are already able to do some form of blocking out time and creating space to create meaning. If Power's was trying to help people trapped in the cycle of connectivity, then he should push this through blogosphere as that is where the constantly connected wretched masses live.
* The discussions reflect Powers personal life that make the book seem more self absorbed that it probably is, but there is that appearance.
* There is a hint of elitism as well in the book as his choice of the terms "meaning" and "good life" is heavily loaded. While Power's recognize that being connected is part of modern work, he seems to think that people who can break away are somehow better than those that cannot or are able to manage.
There are some good parts to the book. The use of seven "philosophers" to describe how people have handled technology in the past was interesting, but more from an academic than an actionable point of view. Some of the characteristics of being overly connected are things that I can connect with - so to speak.
Overall, do not be drawn in by the clever title. If you are looking for a book about the human digital condition, you will need to go elsewhere in my opinion.
I am reading Nicholas Carr's The Shallows right now and that may be a better book. I will post a comment on this review when I am finished. There seems to be a plethora of books coming out on this subject, which I guess is natural given that the Internet has been around for 20 years now.