In Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, William Powers explores our addiction to information overload, and attempts to help us unplug and unwind.
The book title refers to the scene in Hamlet wherein Hamlet has just been visited by his father's ghost. Hamlet is feeling stressed by the information the ghost gives him, so he takes out his "tablet." The tablet is essentially a small chalkboard on which Hamlet can write down things during the day, and then wipe the slate clean at the end of the day. The point is, even Hamlet had a way to cope with information overload.
Powers states that as our digital tools multiply (email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), so do the interruptions we experience. It seems that we are now constantly interrupted by the smartphones dinging that we have new texts, Facebook alerts telling us that somebody wants to connect, email coming in that we feel we should reply to immediately.
The result is that we are overstimulated and suffering from information overload. As Powers puts it:
"Home life is busier too. Much of what used to be called free time has been colonized by our myriad connective obligations, and so is no longer free."
I couldn't agree more. In fact, it seems that our "connective obligations," which at first started out as fun hobbies (remember when you first joined Facebook and thought, oh, look... it's that guy I never talked to in college!) are now more like work. And our hobbies are forgotten because we never have the time (and remember... nerdy hobbies are important for your geek cred).
Powers also posits that this constant interconnectedness has made us less able to make decisions for ourselves. People feel the need to query the hive mind about everything from major life decisions (Should I marry him? When is the perfect time to buy a car?) to what to have for dinner. We've lost the ability to look for the answers in ourselves. Though Powers doesn't let us off that easy; he says that we haven't lost the ability to look for the answers in ourselves; we've willingly abandoned it. The problem is that now many of us don't know how to reclaim it.
Fortunately, Powers does offer guidance. He sets forth some rules that his family lives by and explains how turning off the Internet and smartphones all weekend every weekend offers peace and quiet to the household. No more checking Facebook to see what's going on, and more no more emails luring you to work all weekend. We have a choice, and do have the ability to turn it off, at least for a little while. According to Powers, those two days each week create a peaceful sense of centeredness and wellbeing that lasts through the week. Plus, when you feel overwhelmed on Wednesday, you can make it through knowing that come Friday evening, it's time for peace and quiet again. It sounds blissful.
He isn't suggesting that we give up our computers all weekend, just that the modem get unplugged. It's about quieting the riot, not about becoming a weekend Luddite. You can still play a video game under Powers' rules. Plus, as you're reclaiming your free time, you'll actually have time to play it. And, yes, you can read this book on your Kindle.
Do you make an effort to unplug from technology, or does your family have to pry your smartphone and laptop away from you even when you're on vacation?
Nicole Bremer Nash is Director of Content and Social Media for HuTerra, where she uses SEO and social media to promote charitable organizations in their community-building and fundraising efforts. She enjoys volunteering, arts and crafts, and conducting science experiments at home. Nicole has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Transylvania University, and has experience in copywriting for education, print, business, and the web. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter via @HuTerra.