I just finished the book Hamlet’s Blackberry, by William Powers. I found this book to be wonderful and timely. Ostensibly about technology, it is really about living a life of depth in this age of information.
Powers recognizes the positives of social media; the need to belong is part of being human. Texting, Facebook, Tweeting, cell phones, etc., all offer tools of connection and extend our circles of belonging. They extend our ability to connect with others, and offer much more variety in doing so. Powers is not critical of the technology per se, he is critical of how we too often mindlessly use technology.
This is where the power of the book comes from. More than just a modern look at technology, Powers book offers a practical philosophical treatise on the importance of living a life of depth. Depth is the aspect of live that creates meaning. It is the difference between experiencing an event, and reflecting on it so that it becomes meaningful. The challenge of technology for each of us is creating boundaries around it so that our lives are not just a superficial surfing from screen to screen. Adding experience without meaning is like eating junk food. Real sustenance comes when we create time and methods that allow our inner lives to flourish. This is what creates depth for us.
Too often we live superficially, looking at our Crackberries for the next hit, without allowing time to process our experiences, to make sense of them, to live with a sense of order and intention. Powers points out that subtle sense of inner disarray so common in modern life, and suggests that this necessarily comes when we don’t have a “focal practice” to anchor ourselves within ourselves (rather than floating mindlessly through the fog of technology surrounding us). Powers offers practices to protect our inner lives from the technological onslaught, while still engaging intelligently with technology. A must read.
I’m also re-reading Emerson’s Self Reliance, and Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class As Soulcraft. These are happy coincidences. The congruence between these and Hamlet’s Blackberry is amazing, but not surprising. Timeless ideas are timeless for a reason.
Shop Class As Soulcraft