- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (June 29, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0061687162
- ISBN-13: 978-0061687167
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 104 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #857,459 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age Hardcover – June 29, 2010
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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)
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“[An] elegant meditation on our obsessive connectivity and its effect on our brains and our very way of life.” (Laurie Winer, New York Times Book Review)
“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.” (Heller McAlpin, Christian Science Monitor)
“A brilliant and thoughtful handbook for the Internet age—why we have this screen addiction, its many perils, and some surprising remedies that can make your life better.” (Bob Woodward)
“In this delightfully accessible book, Powers asks the questions we all need to ask in this digitally driven time. And teaches us to answer them for ourselves.” (Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid)
“Benjamin Franklin would love this book. He knew the power of being connected, but also how this must be balanced by moments of reflection. William Powers offers a practical guide to Socrates’ path to the good life in which our outward and inward selves are at one.” (Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life)
“Always connected. Anytime. Anyplace. We know it’s a blessing, but we’re starting to notice that it’s also a curse. In Hamlet’s Blackberry, William Powers helps us understand what being ‘connected’ disconnects us from, and offers wise advice about what we can do about it…. A thoughtful, elegant, and moving book.” (Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less)
Top customer reviews
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But Powers offers a balanced view of this growing problem. In particular, I like the way he reminds us that technology is an incredibly useful and amazing tool. He's not suggesting that we totally unplug and head for a lone cabin in the woods.
Powers approaches the topic as a philosopher, a humanitarian, asking us to examine WHY we've become reliant on our gadgets at the expense of deeper relationships and real personal freedom. He asks us to consider WHAT is really dictating what we do with our lives every day -- a computer or our inner compass? He invites us to reexamine people throughout history who've accomplished masterpieces and major achievements -- in spite of the distractions of their time.
Most important of all, his writing style is crisp, clear, and direct, making it easy to digest some difficult material from important philosophers, from Socrates to McLuhan. This is an important book and ought to be required reading. But those who need it most will probably dismiss it. Their loss. -- Cindy La Ferle
Powers seeks to address the issue of dissatisfaction and disappointment he finds himself, and many of his peers, falling into. He believes the root of this issue is not technology and the Internet itself, but rather the way we are using them. He preaches that the key to living a better life is to seek depth. Depth, he reasons, cannot be found in multiple places simultaneously as we often unknowingly try to do with our rapid barrage of email, news, social media, and content, but rather, depth is found when we un-clutter our digital screens and our minds. To experience deeply is to experience intentionally. Powers’s core philosophy is that depth is found in organized, partitioned periods of connectedness and disconnectedness; and while being something that we might not want to explore, he argues it’s well worth the growing pains. Powers acknowledges this struggle isn’t one entirely new, but has been experienced many times throughout history. He explores how the past can reveal something meaningful about our future relationship with technology.
Before getting further into depth, I’d like to note that while I believe this book is immensely helpful for and significant to all types of people living in the “Internet era”, it is important to note that Powers works in the writing and journalism industry. Multiple times throughout the book, he mentions how certain ideas and practices would look drastically different for, or might not apply at all to, people who work in the tech industry. That being said, this book looks mostly at the personal impacts of connectedness and is incredibly applicable for any human being grappling with the invisible line that separates personal life from digital connectedness.
[SPOILER ALERT: Brief chapter summaries and analyses given below]
Powers divides the book into three parts, labelled What Larks?, Beyond the Crowd, and In Search of Depth. The first part explores the “conundrum of connected life” through specific examples in Powers’s own life along with some new stories and brief stories of friends or celebrities experiences with modern connectedness. The second part explores teachings of seven philosophers and important thoughts from their respective writings and why they matter to us today. The third part explores “ideas in practice” and the practical applications and real life experiences Powers has gone through while writing this book.
Chapter one talks about the word “busy” and how we’re missing true meaning in our increasing and perpetual connectedness. Chapter two tells a simple recollection of a time the author phoned his mother to let her know he was running later than expected on his way to her house, and how nice it was to have that ability. Chapter three tells a tale of revelation found in the unfortunate aftermath of Powers falling out of his boat into the marina with his phone in his pocket, and the unexpected joy that being utterly disconnected brought. Chapter four talks about how we often propose half-solutions or “solutions that aren’t” as the author states it.
Chapter five touches on a story Plato tells of his teacher Socrates and a young man Phaedrus who shows Socrates the importance of distance and traveling “outside the city walls”. Chapter six talks about Seneca and the importance of a private “inner space” apart from the external world. Chapter seven talks about Gutenberg and the underrated importance of being able to read alone that the printing press brought via the mass production of books. Chapter eight expounds upon the “table” device used in Hamlet and the positive impact it had in that culture. Chapter nine talks about Ben Franklin’s positive rituals and his charts for measuring how close he came to achieving his behavioral guidelines ideal daily. Chapter ten is about Thoreau’s experimental isolation-but-not-isolation in Walden. Chapter eleven explores the ideals of 20th century philosopher McLuhan.
Chapter twelve talks about practical ways to employ techniques built off of each of the seven philosophies from part 2 and Powers’s own personal experiences with them. In Chapter thirteen, Powers details his family’s experiment of the “Internet Sabbath”, where they power off their home Internet modem for Saturday and Sunday of every week and disconnect from the digital grid as much as possible in an attempt to deepen the experience of family togetherness and the true enjoyment of a weekend.
All in all, I believe this an easy read that brings important thoughts and perspectives to our everyday activities. While stuffed with relatable information and philosophies, I did, at times, feel as though the book was fluffy and repetitive. That being said, I think the heart of the book overpowers any fluff surrounding it. I was definitely impacted positively and would recommend it to my friends and family.
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