Title
Hamlet’s blackberry
Author
William Powers
Genre
Philosophy
Price
$13.89

Hamlet’s blackberry: Building a good life in the digital age

1 October 2018

Title
Hamlet’s blackberry
Author
William Powers
Genre
Philosophy
Price
$13.89

A timely philo­soph­i­cal reflec­tion on the dig­i­tal influ­ences in our daily lives and how we can har­monise with them.

Although I read this book four years ago I was actu­ally read­ing it four years after the book was first pub­lished. In the dig­i­tal age that is a life­time: between the book’s pub­lish­ing and now nearly five mil­lion star­tups have come up, most have died, and nearly all of them had been madly vying for our atten­tion. This mad­ness is yet to die, which is what still keeps Mr Powers’s book rel­e­vant. That, rein­forced by my insis­tence that the social media of today can poten­tially induce ADHD but I digress.

Unlike a lot of books that deal with these topics Hamlet’s black­berry is not driven by a hatred for tech­nol­ogy or by glo­ri­ous calls for absti­nence. This is pre­cisely what makes a reader like myself take Mr Powers seri­ously. Rather than citing exam­ples of recent times, of people walk­ing into lamp­posts or diving under trucks, lost on their phones, he talks about how our con­cern for modern tech­nol­ogy is not entirely well-founded. Or at least has had pre­de­ces­sors. We have always been wor­ried about the new but have turned out just fine as a soci­ety.

A lot of us are feel­ing tapped out, hungry for some time away from the crowd. Life in the dig­i­tal room would be saner and more ful­fill­ing if we knew how to leave it now and then.

It is as indi­vid­u­als, though, that we need to look into our­selves and Hamlet’s black­berry talks about this beau­ti­fully. Right at the start of the book Mr Powers talks about vis­it­ing his mother and how he could call her up and let her know he was run­ning late. Tech­nol­ogy made that pos­si­ble with great ease: with­out it he would have either had no way of get­ting in touch with her or would have had to look for more time-con­sum­ing means, like a pay­phone. So tech­nol­ogy is good he says, but focusses entirely on what happen after he keeps his phone down. He loses him­self momen­tar­ily in mem­o­ries of his mother making it appear like tech­nol­ogy brought him closer. Per­haps it did, but the cir­cum­stances are just as impor­tant he points out. Had he called his mother and, soon after, checked his tweets or his Face­book time­line he would not have expe­ri­enced the same bliss. With that he estab­lishes a thread that stitches the foun­da­tion of his book.

Using tech­nol­ogy can be a good thing but ensur­ing we have ample pock­ets of inde­pen­dent time between suc­ces­sive uses of tech­nol­ogy is extremely impor­tant to keep our life well-bal­anced. It would, he says, be saner and more ful­fill­ing if we knew how to leave [the dig­i­tal world] now and then.’

He pro­poses Walden zones (inspired by Thoreau) and speaks of how his own family takes the week­ends off the web. Moments of dis­con­nect like this not only keep us alertly in the present but also enrich those planned, inten­tional moments during which we actu­ally do con­nect.

What sets this book apart is its philo­soph­i­cal approach. This is also what will ensure this book remains mean­ing­ful for years to come. Rather than offer­ing absolute solu­tions that might lose valid­ity with time Mr Powers explores the philoso­phies that ought to drive us to con­trol our use of tech­nol­ogy and help us reign our­selves in. This alone makes Hamlet’s black­berry worth having on our read­ing list.