Brief Book Report: Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age

Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers

Key Takeaways:

  • We’re always connected because we’re always connecting.
  • Every life has the potential to be lived deeply.
  • Digital busyness is the enemy of depth.
  • Society says, “It’s good to be connected, and it’s bad to be disconnected.”
  • “Happiness is about knowing how to enjoy one’s own company.” – Mildred Newman and Bernard Berkowitz authors of How to Be Your Own Best Friend
  • Paul Tillich (20th century philosopher) wrote, “The word ‘loneliness’ exists to express ‘the pain of being alone,’ while ‘solitude’ expresses ‘the glory of being alone’.”
  • The digital consciousness can’t tolerate 3 minutes of pure focus.
  • Connectedness begins at home, and, let’s face it, we’re our own worst enemies.
  • In order to change this behavior, people must realize that their behavior changes when they embrace a new way of thinking about it.
  • “Learn to be content within yourself, to trust your own instincts and ideas. Those who achieve this autonomy, are best able to enjoy and make the most of their outward lives. They thrive in the crowd because they’re not dependent on it.” -Seneca, Roman philosopher
  • “By eliminating the worthless time-wasting stuff and focusing on what serves your highest purposes, you can shape and enrich your own experience.” – Seneca, Roman philosopher
  • Ways to do this: 1. Choose one idea a day to think about more deeply. 2. Train the mind to tune out the chaos, through the art of concentration.
  • Question to ask yourself: 1. Does your screen time help you think and work better? 2. Does it deepen your ties with your friends? 3. Does it help you find that much-needed distance and space? 4. Do your explorations enrich your understanding of the world? 5. Do you come away in a better state of mind than you were in to begin with?
  • Argument: 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.
  • Powers says, “It’s clear that a full-time outward-focused life is unproductive, unhealthy, and unhappy in manifold ways. If you never lose the crowd, the magic never happens. We need distance and gaps, and we need them on a regular basis.”
  • Powers says, “Connectedness is much more appealing and rewarding when you know there’s a place nearby to get away to.”
  • He also mentions, If our technologies are driving us nuts, it’s our fault for not paying attention to what they’re doing to us. We should take control of the new technologies ‘instead of being pushed around by them’.”

7 Practical Philosophies for Every Day
1. Distance by Plato (Physical distance is the oldest method of crowd control.)

  • Leaving your phone in a drawer and walk out the door.
  • Opt out of wifi on the airplane.

2. Inner Space by Seneca

  • Choosing a friend/family member in your physical vicinity and just have a conversation.
  • Limit yourself to one screen activity at a time, and don’t use the screen to wander away from a phone chat.
  • Use other people as search engines.

3. Technologies of Inwardness by Gutenberg

  • Turning off the wireless option on your phone, computer or router.

4. Old Tools Ease Overload by Shakespeare

  • Read a paper book.
  • Keep a journal or just jot notes in a notebook.
  • Subscribe to a paper magazine.
  • Listen to a vinyl record.
  • Play cards or a board game.

5. Positive Rituals by Franklin

  • Set time limits and rewards on your screen time.
  • Keep certain hours of the day screen-free.

6. Walden Zone by Thoreau

  • Create a room in your house that is offline.
  • Build a tree house.

7. Lower the Inner Thermostat by McLuhan

  • Accidentally leave your mobile at home when you go out on the weekend, just to see how everyone reacts when they can’t reach you.
  • Host a disconnected party, where guests leave their phones at the door.
  • Pay closer attention to local media content.

Conclusion: The point isn’t that the screen is bad. The screen is, in fact, very good. The point is the lack of proportion, the abandonment of all else, and the strange absent-present state of mind this compulsion produces.


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