Ron’s #12: Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers

This pick comes directly from Mark; he reviewed the book last month, and he thought I’d enjoy it. He was right. I loved this book. After reading last year’s The Shallows, I have been thinking of ways to wean myself off of the Internet. I loved that The Shallows made me more aware that so much Internet usage is problematic for our brains. Hamlet’s Blackberry tackles the same problem, but with a different focus. Rather than showing how it affects our thinking, William Powers shows that hyperconnectivity affects our relationships and own deep thinking.

What makes this book unique is that Powers takes us through historical figures and their responses to the technology of the day. From Socrates and Seneca to Ben Franklin and Thoreau, Hamlet’s Blackberry shows how these men reacted and responded to the latest trends, and how it added to their greatness. They were not “early adopters” and eager consumers; rather, these were men who thought deeply and protected some aspect of their lives from the frivolity that the latest and greatest brings. This book served as an interesting history lesson as well as a treatise on a fulfilling life.

Powers is not a Luddite who demands that you chuck your iMac into a volcano and dress in sackcloth and ashes. The premise of the book in a sentence is: don’t let your hyperconnectivity take away from the moments that life is made from. It is a reminder that I can and should survive without constant access and obsessive checking email. I saw this in a small way this week on Spring Break. As I was watching my new son, Hudson, I was poring over Facebook reading comments by people I hardly know (and some I like even less). Here was my son playing with toys next to my chair, and I was missing it to comment on some nonsensical political jib-jab. It didn’t take reading this book to point out my glaring hypocrisy.

William Powers is a gifted writer with many powerful passages about technology. His last chapter titled, “Disconnectopia” is one of the strongest chapters. In it, he lays out his plan for his family to have Internet Sabbaths each weekend. While he does not seem to claim Christianity, he understands that principle that the Sabbath was made for man, and not man made for the Sabbath. There is a passage that I thought was especially powerful in assessing my own screen time:

“Does your screen time help you think and work better? Does it deepen your ties to your friends? Does it help you find that much-needed distance and space? Do your explorations enrich your understanding of the world? Do you come away in a better state of mind than you were in to begin with? These are all interior questions. And the more time you spend in the digital crowd, the harder it is to answer them in the affirmative. Inner life becomes not deeper and happier but shallower and more unpleasant” (130).

I want to disconnect to think deeper, to spend more time with my wife and my son, to know friends better, to learn more about Jesus and spend my time being more like Him. I want to disconnect because I know that real life is not lived through screens. I want to disconnect because when I do spent an inordinate amount of time searching for T.V. commercials from the 1970s or scanning eBay for old Apple computers, I feel my life slipping away. Chances are, you feel it too. The Internet highlights how I’m “living a life of quiet desperation,” as Thoreau stated. As a husband, father, and friend, that is not my calling. I am made in the image of God; I am not made to be merely entertained by images.

Hamlet’s Blackberry and The Shallows are perfect companion books to address this topic. I am not alone in predicting that as our screen time increases as a culture and the more disconnected we become, we’ll read more books on this subject. These two are a good starting point to avoid the rush.

About Ron
I teach English and government in Okinawa, Japan. I love reading theology and fiction, and my52books.com helps keep me accountable. Reading with three kids under 5 is a bit of a challenge, but I keep trying to find ways to read more. My favorites writers are C. S. Lewis, Flannery O’ Connor, and Raymond Carver.

1 Comment on Ron’s #12: Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers

  1. excellent review!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

*