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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Review: Hamlet's Blackberry

Just completed the recently released: Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers. The link includes section examples. See also the author's blog.

The broad topic is popular these days, eight books are mentioned in Businessweek discussing if the Web is making the world better or worse. From the cautious or pessimistic point of view many of the books seek to determine who is in control in this new world of endless connectivity. My IPhone dings me whenever there is a new incoming email, dongs me with a new text message and pushes me a new video whenever satellites orbiting the sun detect a new solar storm. New communicating Apps come out every week. I work with several forms of email and a half dozen social networks.

Hamlet's Blackberry does an excellent job of positioning our current place in a connected world. We are connected at anytime, and increasingly in any place. We act as though we believe that the more you are connected the better off you are. As long as we act on this premise, information overloading will get worse. Do we want to give increasing control to the machines?

In its second section Powers discusses the history of how technology has forced these problems to occur a number of times in the past from the time of Plato to that of McLuhan. Each of these essays is done very well, if sometime the point is over-made. If you like the history of technology and how it can influence how people communicate and utilize knowledge, they are excellent introductions. One example covers the use of small erasable tablets by Shakespeare called 'Tables' to temporarily record information. He suggests that simple paper notebooks can be used today to minimize the digitization of all information, letting knowledge 'rest' before it is completely saved. It is something I do myself.

The last sections cover solutions to the overconnection problem. You could go directly to that section if you already agree with the premise in the first part. Powers gives some simple, practical approaches to the problem, based on some of the historical examples. All of these are based on the supposition that you are not as busy as you really think you are. He also tested the methods he suggests with his own family, where they have worked well.

We are not forced to buy new mobile technology or join new social networking groups. Yet people believe it has become a ticket to the inter connected world. There are alternatives, and Hamlets's Blackberry does a good job outlining these for someone who wants an interesting historical premise for the solutions.

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