Hamlet's Blackberry : a practical philosophy for building a good life in the digital age

by William Powers

Hardcover, 2010




New York : Harper, c2010.


"A soulful polemic that challenges the sacred dogma of the digital age--that the more we connect with others, the happier we are--arguing that as our electronic connectedness grows, we are pulled away from the relationships and experiences that give life texture, depth, and meaning"--

Media reviews

Powers spends too much time describing the techno bind that we find ourselves in today and that we already know so well. But for the most part his ruminations are penetrating, his language clear and strong, and his historical references are restorative.

User reviews

LibraryThing member reannon
I started this book rather in the mood of a sullen child told to put away her toys, for that is to some degree the message of the author. His thesis is that our now current state of constant connectedness via computer and mobile phones leads to shallowness of thought, an inability to focus and concentrate. The author gradually won me over by his arguments, however, as it is a sensible argument hard to refute. I especially enjoy the last half of the book where he discusses seven philosophers or technologists who have wrestled with the problem of a world too much with us and how to provide one's self with time free of distraction and able to ..."strike a healthy balance between connected and disconnected, crowd and self, the outward life and the inward one". (p. 210)

Powers also talks about the experience of his own family in going disconnected on the weekends and how it has deepened what they do together. He is concerned that we be aware of the need for balance now, before the habit of times devoted to such balance is lost. A book worth reading.
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LibraryThing member catalogthis
I'm not usually a fan of What-Ails-Society-and-How-to-Fix-It books, so Hamlet's BlackBerry was a pleasant surprise.

Granted, the first two chapters weren't very promising. It took a while before he made a point that really resonated with me, and that point was this: our degree of connectedness (ranging from perfect solitude to complete immersion the crowd) is up to us to decide, for ourselves, at any given moment. It seems like a "well, duh" kind of point, until you think about how often we become the tools of our tools. For example, I know I don't need to check my e-mail 18 times a day. But every time that little envelope icon appears on my smartphone, I tap in and check it. (Sidebar: it's usually ALA spam.) Furthermore, when reading e-mail this way, I rarely pause to take the time to compose a thoughtful response. The phone has enabled me to be more connected, more often, but the price for that connectedness has been a decline in reflection and thoughtful engagement. One particular comment leaped off the page at me:

"The question now is how truly individual -- as in bold, original, unique -- you can be if you never step back from the crowd. When we think and write from within our busyness, surrounded by countless other voices, too often the result is reactive, derivative, short-shelf-life stuff."

Highly, highly recommended for anyone who feels like they're spending too much time glued to screens.
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LibraryThing member wkelly42
The problem with modern society is that we assume that every technological advance is beneficial. Thankfully, there are several books out that make us think about that idea, and Hamlet's Blackberry is one of them.

The book looks back through history at different technological leaps to see how they were received and how they were abused, pointing out that anything can be used for good or bad, depending on who is doing the using. That's the important thing to remember when evaluating technology -- "Is this going to make my life easier? And what am I going to do with the time I am saving?"

You could do the ironic thing and get this as an e-book, but whatever you do, get this and read it. It will encourage you to have a little perspective, and maybe you'll even step away from the phone/computer/tablet and do something new. Interact with real, live, people.
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LibraryThing member anndar
This is a great read! Taking examples from philosophers from the past like Plato, Socrates, and Thoreau the author shows how they dealt with the new technologies of their time and the busyness it created. I was looking for some insight on how to better manage the screens in my life since I am surrounded by them in my work and pulled by their never ending tug in my personal life as well. The main idea is that for the most part we can control how and when we choose to use technology in our lives and he gives great insight on the philosophies of disconnecting and going inward when we desire.… (more)
LibraryThing member lisahistory
Wonderful in its use of history to explain how we've been here before.
LibraryThing member TerriBooks
I was afraid that Powers was going to go the easy route and condemn our connected gadgets. Instead, he accepts that we are so enamored of them because they have significant advantages. The issue is how to learn to use them in ways that let us continue to reflect, think deeply, and develop our inner lives. He doesn't do much to provide realistic answers. What shines in this book is that he revisits points in history where technological changes have brought their own crises to thinking people. We've worked through change before, and we will again.… (more)
LibraryThing member Rayaowen
So much repetition. The ideas could have been presented effectively in a much shorter book.
LibraryThing member spbooks
I enjoyed this relaxing read about managing the overwhelming pressure to connect using modern technology. Sensible, wise advice. If you are a user of social media (and who isn't), you'll enjoy rethinking your relationship to it.
LibraryThing member kaitanya64
This is really more of a lifestyle book than a science book. It examines downside of being continually "connected" by cell phone etc. and then offers insights from a variety of figures in the history of Western thought, including Plato, Shakespeare, and Thoreau, to discuss how we might reclaim our personal "thought space."
LibraryThing member jpe9
I heard the author at the Nantucket Athenaeum on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010. He's *not* a luddite, but a well-read and good-reasoning proponent of cultivating depth in one's inner life by disconnecting periodically from the "screens" (portals to the digital life in which our attention is increasingly fractured). Internet "sabbaths," as the author calls them, help him focus better attention on family, nature, and face-to-face relationships with neighbors and friends. Such breaks from being connected can also lead to a deeper appreciation of the benefits of being connected. Along the way, the author treats the reader to thoughtful excursions into Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Franklin, Thoreau, and McLuhan.… (more)
LibraryThing member JBD1
I was hoping for a bit more depth from this book. Basically Powers' argument boils down to "think about how much time you're spending looking at a screen, and if you can, decrease that and spend time doing something else." It's written clearly, and he's collected a number of useful examples and anecdotes, but I came away wanting something less obvious.… (more)



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