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Customer Review

87 of 103 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A detailed discussion of the problem with a simple solution, June 15, 2010
This review is from: Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age (Hardcover)
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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.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 19, 2010 3:15:41 PM PDT
This is the follow-up to the review. Rather than changing the review, I thought it better to add this comment. While my overall impression of Hamlet's Blackberry has not changed, the amount of advice and thought on how to work in this world is SIGNIFICANTLY more than provided in Nicholas Carr's book "The Shallows" which I just finished reviewing.

Carr does a better job describing the situation. His book is more empiric in its focus where Powers seems to be more emotional/observational in its approach. That observational approach contributes to the weaknesses I cited in my review of Powers book.

However, the seven principles raised at the end of Powers book are more helpful than Carr's lack of recommendations.

Its a shame that the two did not collaborate.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 4, 2010 3:23:22 PM PDT
Chen Sun says:
I thought your review is accurate.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 5, 2010 1:38:58 PM PDT
owl1 says:
Oh well, I just ordered Carr's book before I read the above. I'll just have to read it, and let you know!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 22, 2011 1:43:45 AM PST
Hedda says:
I'm hoping my husband will read this book which is why I'm buying it. The fact that there is some practical advice makes it more likely he'll read it. Or I'll read it out loud to him! However it doesn't sound like there's any discussion about the particular susceptibility of older men to be totally seduced by the internet and other gadgets. From my own observations of retired people, the range of activities previously undertaken by older men have been considerably reduced due to the amount of time spent in front of a screen. I'd like to know if any studies support this and what the health implications might be.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 6, 2012 9:46:42 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 6, 2012 9:49:46 PM PST
Brad4d says:
Based on a quick read of Nicholas Carr's book, I agree that Carr's book is far more researched, at least as entertaining, and more useful. Mr. Carr also gave a decent summary of his book on the NY Academy of Science's website under podcasts.
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