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Hamlet's BlackBerry    by William Powers order for
Hamlet's BlackBerry
by William Powers
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2010 (2010)

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

William Powers addresses a problem that many of us are grappling with. How can we reassert our independence and loosen the grip computers and mobile devices have on our lives?

Part memoir, part philosophical tract, Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy For Building a Good Life in the Digital Age lays out a strategy for dealing with the multiple screens that seem to govern our every waking moment. Powers' contention is that we are so connected to screens that there is no longer any time to find distance from the world around us.

'We hear the voices of others, and are directed by those voices, rather than by our own,' he writes. 'We don't turn inward as often or as easily as we used to.'

He continues in the book's introduction, 'What I'm proposing here is a new digital philosophy, a way of thinking that takes into account the human need to connect outward, to answer the call of the crowd, as well as the opposite need for time and space apart. The key is to strike a balance between the two impulses.'

After illustrating how prevalent Digital Maximalism (the creation of maximum screen time) has become, Powers looks to the past to show ways of coping with the situation. Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Franklin and Thoreau as well as McLuhan may not seem relevant in this technological age but, as you will see, they do have insights that are very relevant.

After devoting chapters to explaining why each of these historical figures has something to teach us about dealing with new technologies, the author offers actual guidelines for applying the lessons of the past. 'The essential idea is simple: to lead happy, productive lives in a connected world, we need to master the art of disconnecting,' Powers says. 'Even in a world as thoroughly connected as ours, it's still possible to put some space between yourself and the crowds.'

The beauty of this book is that the author's narrative is very accessible. For many individuals the word philosophy is synonymous with boring and difficult to understand reading matter.

Fortunately, that isn't the case in this instance. Yes, Powers cites some of the most brilliant thinkers of the past, but he discusses them in a context that is both understandable and relevant to his topic.

Once you begin this book you'll not only find yourself agreeing with the extent of the problem of screens that needs to be remedied but you'll also find the solutions make a lot of sense. Not only is it time to consider some form of disconnectedness, but there are some practical ways of doing so!

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