Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Review: Hamlet's BlackBerry

It’s a rare person these days who can keep the digital world at bay.  As I write this post, there are three applications on my computer that demand my attention.  There’s a message on Facebook, there are a dozen tweets I could answer and I’m sure there’s something in my inbox.  I heard the chime on my smartphone signaling that I have a text message.  We tweet; we e-mail; we instant message, text or BBM.  There’s Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn.  Everywhere we turn our attention is drawn to someone who needs us and is letting us know through technology. For most of us, the draw of a smartphone and the ability to stay in touch with everyone at all times is hard to control.  We are in personal information overload and the book, Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by William Powers gives us a look at how we are becoming hyper-dependent on the digital feed and how all this dependence could be a result of us being hard-wired to respond to new stimuli.

Powers, a former staff writer for the Washington Post, delves into several areas. He looks at past technological revolutions as far back as Guttenberg and the printing press and how all technological advances were criticized for pushing forth too much change.  Just as we are being warned about the all-consuming addiction of social media, Powers reminds us of the warnings that came with the development of radio and TV and how with each new thing, humans adapted.  He also looks at how this new wave of change is taking so much more out of our day and intruding on time that we used to spend with ourselves. 

However, we may not be able to help it.  Research done recently supports the theory that the new stimuli cause a reaction in our brain that produces a little high.  So if you remember how excited Meg Ryan’s character got when she heard those little words “You’ve got mail,” her response may be grounded in fact.  Scientists have discovered that we get a little shot of dopamine every time one of our technological tethers tells us someone wants our attention. 

But, hard-wired or not, the revolution is cutting into time we would normally take to think and recharge.  Powers is sometimes redundant in his warnings, repeating over and over how the over-connectedness needs to be managed. Fortunately, he does present strategies we can use to combat the “techno bind” we find ourselves in today. 

Hamlet’s Blackberry is an interesting read.  The book puts this new frontier in proper historical context and gives those who are interested ideas on how to manage the constant demand the new technologies place on our time.


  1. Sounds like a book with a very good message.

    The trouble with technology that makes everyone instantly available is that you're EXPECTED to be instantly (and pretty much constantly) available. Being on call 24/7 is stressful. The thing is, it gets to the point that being cut off from it is even more stressful. Maybe it's withdrawal from that dopamine. ;)

  2. I was surprised at the dopamine burst that apparently happens. I use Tweetdeck, so every little chirp and I go to a happy place. I guess this means I can't really quit whenever I want!

  3. Wow. I had not spent that much time pondering how I interact with my social networking but it makes so much sense. But I like the idea of not getting too sucked into it.

    During boating season (everyone groans) when we are out on the water we are completely disconnected. No cell phones, no twitter, not internet. We do carry a phone for emergency use but don't take it out unless we need to.

    I think there has to be balance in everything.

    Great review.

  4. I swear I'm addicted. Just a few months ago I didn't have a blog or Twitter or a smart phone. Now I have all of those, and I'm always checking, always connecting. I love the relationships it builds, but yes, it cuts down on time when I'd be relaxing with a good movie. I've never heard of this book, and I'm glad you brought it to our attention.

  5. Julie, Kelly, Keeping the balance is the hard part. I find it's such a time sink, so I've been trying to curb it a little bit. Still, it's so tough. I have what a friend calls "AMS" which actually means "afraid of missing something!" It's true.

  6. Donna Coe-VellemanOctober 28, 2010 at 6:51 PM

    Interesting subject, Jeannie. I don't have a smart phone and don't want one. Though I'm on Facebook and Twitter I never go on because my connection is so slow I can't down load pictures etc. But the computer itself is a time suck with all the emails etc. I seem to spend most of my nights on it.
    But I can relate to getting a little zing when I get comments on my blog. :)
    ~ Donna