Hamlet’s Blackberry

Hamlet's Blackberry

At first, I thought this book would be pretty lame, because I’ve had enough of people telling others how to live their lives (both digital and otherwise). I was expecting hasty generalizations and lofty moral values, but William Powers offers some cogent advice for living in a 24/7 connected world. Coming on the heels of investigating all the types of surveillance with my GSW students, Powers was an appropriate read. Furthermore, his writing style is accessible and down-to-earth, so I don’t get the feeling he’s preaching a “holier than thou” sermon. Part of his ethos is identifying with such a connected culture–we are all victims! As High School Musical would say: “We’re all in this together!” Another ethos-building moment comes when Powers confronts the counterargument before going in-depth with his own argument. That’s a bold strategy, and one I think really pays off when dealing with highly defensive and exigent topics (like personal use of technology).

I’d like to counter by pointing out an assumption on which Powers’ argument rests. He concedes that digital technology and multitasking can indeed foster creativity in individuals, and that “there is nothing more valuable than an employee with a fertile, creative mind” (29). However, Powers wonders whether or not multitasking really elicits such creativity while users are “jumping among many other tasks at the same time, racing from this to that and back to this again” (29). Maybe we should hash out some different types of multitasking, or at least consider that everyone multitasks in a different way. For example, I like to work on one task for a short period of time, giving it 100% of my focus. Then I move to the next task, and so on. This is opposed to someone who flutters from task to task in a matter of seconds or minutes, never giving more than, say, 10% to any one task. My type of multitasking would surely promote better results than the other type, yet Powers lumps them all in together.

One facet of Powers’ argument that I enjoyed was his breakdown of why we feel we need the newest, fastest version of technologies. Sometimes, we spend exorbitant money to have the newest technology–that hasn’t even changed that much from the previous version. It’s partly the fault of advertising, and partly the fault of our psyche. I’d venture to say that the majority of us believe that we can ONLY work with the best and the fastest, lest we miss out on any opportunity to maximize time and effort, because we are just so BUSY (Powers also mentions that being “busy” is a state of mind created to justify multitasking and running around like a crazy person, which snowballs over time). This is simply not true. I wouldn’t advocate NOT to update, but I (like Powers) don’t believe it’s absolutely essential every few months.

P.S. how cool is it that the copy of Hamlet’s Blackberry I ordered from Amazon happened to be signed by William Powers himself? SO COOL!


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