In today’s society, most, if not all of us, are connected to the digital world in one way or another. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or email, we use the Internet as a tool to stay connected. But does it ever become too much?
That is the question that William Powers asks us in his book Hamlet’s Blackberry. The book itself is a historical look at technology and its advancements throughout the ages, but also has a self-help feel. The book talks about how all societies, before the Internet, dealt with the advancing technologies of the age. By dealt with, I mean escaped from it.
We all use social media to connect to those around us. But what we seek from our Internet is also the problem. We are so connected all the time that we really don’t have a way to escape it. Many of us can’t even go for a walk in the park without a smartphone in our pocket. Powers’ book addresses this issue. Unlike many social commentators, he does not see technology as a bad thing. On the contrary, he sees it as a powerful tool, a tool that needs to be monitored. Throughout the book he offers insight into how humans have been finding ways to escape technology and reconnect with their inner selves. A good example s the chapter dedicated to Plato. The great philosopher loved taking a walk outside city walls to escape lectures and teachings in order to regain some peace. Each chapter focuses on a new era, a new technology, and how the great minds of the time worked with technology. From Shakespeare to Ben Franklin, the book details how these great men have not only used technology to further their intellect, but also conquered it in such a way that they are not slaves to technology.
What is great about this book is that it is about the evolution of technology through society, not just a focused look at our technology today. Every piece of technology, no matter how outdated it seems today, was new at some point. Books were even considered to be new technology. What Powers explains throughout his book is that technology comes and goes, and the people who experience it at the time must find a way to control it. As opposed to being afraid of technology, labeling it as a bad thing, he instead offers ways to manage it. Go for a walk without your phone; keep your Internet off during designated days of the week. While the tasks seem simple enough, we don’t really think about them until they're actually put into words.
I particularly enjoyed Powers’ optimistic view. As a person who has grown up with television, Internet and social media, there is no way I could not have it as part of my life. Powers is able to not only explain that technology, and advancements in technology are necessities in human society, but offers ways that we can manage our time. I also enjoyed the way he combines our own human history. Technology today is new, and our society is in a state of flux. Powers’ chooses societies that were also in a state of transition in order to educate the reader. The book is written well and is surprisingly engaging and insightful. While this book had the potential to be a drag, Powers’economical use of words to includes what’s helpful and interesting, and nothing else.
Essentially, the book is a reminder that change can be a good thing. People are so afraid of technology today that they don’t even realize that humans have been growing and changing since the beginning of time. It’s not about computers taking over the world; it’s about us taking control of our own lives, using technology as the tool. I think this book offers advice and insight that our society can use to its advantage. For anyone feeling like the technology in their life can be overwhelming, definitely give this book a read.