Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers

Hamlet's Blackberry

a review by Nalini Haynes

In Hamlet’s Blackberry, William Powers looks at our lives in this digital age, from the perspective of someone who has grown up in an evolving society and, at times, has not successfully managed the technology and increased connectivity it brings. Part I looks at how this new era of technological connectivity (mobile phones, email, internet) is good and how it detrimentally impacts on us. Part II recounts the ideals, concerns and experiences of 7 historical figures who had experience of new technology in their eras or who developed ways to cope with similar issues in their times. Part III reviews Parts I and II, and goes further into looking at the author’s ‘internet Sabbath’ as a means of coping and ensuring a strong family network away from gadgets.

Ever read a book that says what you already kind of knew? Because the author is saying what you know, it clears the muddy waters and validates your feelings. Parts I and III were like this for me. I am less connected than a lot of people I know and yet I feel overwhelmed at times. At other times I have tried to find space away from the internet to enrich family relationships which has been really positive, but I’ve found it difficult to sustain those efforts. Powers putting all of this into words and expressing what I already felt validated my concerns, giving me extra energy and authority to take control of my own life rather than be controlled. I believe many people if not most could benefit from reading and reflecting upon Powers’ exploration in order to reduce stress levels and enjoy life more.

Part II explored the ideals and concerns of Plato, Seneca, Gutenburg, Hamlet (Shakespeare), Benjamin Franklin, Henry Thoreau and Malcolm McLuhan. Each of these men was faced with technological developments impacting upon his era or a need to alter his life in unconventional ways in order to live a productive life. As my history has been largely an accumulation of random facts from books such as this, I found this new perspective to be interesting although perhaps a tad repetitive. Perhaps my overloaded mind just wanted the synopsis rather than the experience?
Put this on your reading list if you are feeling technologically overwhelmed, even if you only read Parts I and III.

This review was previously published in Dark Matter issue 1, October 2010, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.