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Book Review: Hamlet's Blackberry

Written by: Milly Welsh
Published: October 2010

imageIn the last few decades we have seen an explosion of technology. The Internet allows us to be connected to millions of other people and gives us access to endless amounts of information. Now with the invention of smartphones and other portable devices we can be connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. As a web developer and an avid user of the Internet, I find these new technical advancements extremely exciting. Yet even I have to admit that there can be a downside to this much connectedness. The Internet grants us instant access to people, even those who are half way around the world. It also keeps us within reach of any knowledge we wish to learn. But recently I have noticed times when I feel all this electronic stimulation can become system overload for my mind. Instead of helping me it becomes a distraction. The results of our October poll question (How many hours per day do you typically spend using electronic devices?) lead me to believe that I'm not the only one experiencing this problem. 68% of you said you used electronic devices 5 or more hours per day. So when I heard William Powers talk about his new book "Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy For Building A Good Life In The Digital Age" on public radio, I thought it would be a good candidate for a book review on our website.

William Powers very poetically illustrates the problem most of are experiencing in this new "Digital Age." He explains that because we are constantly connected to other human beings we have become much busier. He uses a juggler analogy to describe how we all have many tasks that we have to keep going all at one time. He also makes the argument that although our devices have grown to be super fast we are actually becoming less efficient due the constant bombardment of emails and the lure of finding out "what's going on right now" through news and social networking websites. It seems that although we've seen such swift advancements in the tools we as humans use to help us live our lives, we haven't quite figured out the best way to utilize these tools.

It's easy to believe that this is the first time that technological advancement has in essence "blown our minds" and left us reeling to adjust, but as William Powers points out in the book, we have gone through this very dilemma over and over again throughout human history. It seems silly to think that the now simple act of writing down words had a similar effect on human society. Yet when written language first took hold in ancient Greece a few thousand years ago, it's exactly what happened. There were even naysayers that predicted it would be the fall of mankind. Hamlet's Blackberry allows you to gain perspective on our current difficulties by taking you on a journey through the past. Powers offers equivalent examples though time on the process of integrating new communication technologies. By looking at ancient Rome, medieval Europe, Shakespeare's England and more, Powers lets us distinguish the bigger picture and helps us make sense of what is going on today. In the end William Powers also provides advice in the form of his own personal solutions to over connectedness. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who struggles to balance their life with their electronics!

Milly Welsh

Milly Welsh

Milly Welsh is the Priority Learning webmaster and Owner/Operator of Zebralove Web Solutions, a web development company located in southern Maine.
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