The other night I sat down (bing!) to start a new book (buzz!). It was a book that a good friend (Beep!) had recently recommended and I was saving it for (ring!) the right time. A cold winter (ding!) night in January seemed like the perfect night. As I started to read (tweet!) I found that I could not quite get into it (buzz!). My friend who recommended it (ding!) knows what I usually like to read, so the fact that this book was not catching my attention (ring!) was kind of odd. Then it struck me....literally. My phone that is, buzzing on the couch next to me. What I realized was the constant buzzing, ringing, dinging, and the myriad of other noises emanating from my phone was completely sabotaging my ability to get into and enjoy this book. And this is the culture that we all live in. A culture that is progressively more intertwined with the digital world. Intuitively we all this know can be distracting and at times destructive. Yet acting as if the digital word does not exist and is not becoming a bigger part of every aspect of our lives amounts to sticking our head in the sand. Each of us has more than likely experienced the double edged sword of the digital world. We have all had the positive experiences of sharing life events with friends and family scattered around the country or world with only the click of a button. We have been able to keep in touch with those people who a few decades before, it might have been significantly more difficult. We have also experienced the the loss of the present moment, the loss of the here-and-now as our attention is locked onto our screen. Or the person who is sitting across the table from you, but they might as well be a thousand miles away as their attention is constantly being pulled towards the digital community. But we can't just throw the baby out with the bathwater right? There has got to be a middle ground? So what do we do?
That is roughly the question that William Powers sets out to answer in his book Hamlet's BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. The problem with the digital world is pretty apparent. There seems to be an inverse relationship to connectivity and depth. The more connected we become, the less depth of experience we encounter. To analyze this phenomena Powers looks to the past to help us cope with the future. How have others throughout history dealt with technological advances? Powers examines how Plato, Guttenberg, and Shakespeare incorporated the new technology of writing of words onto scrolls, the printing press, and tablets (note books). He examines how they used these technologies to benefit themselves and not allow them to become a detriment. Powers also looks at how Ben Franklin used positive rituals to disconnect himself from new advances and how Henry David Thoreau used a physical disconnection from society in order to not be over stimulated. By looking into the past, we can gain insight on how to cope with our current situation.
So whats the solution? Powers suggests that increasing the gap's between digital experiences is the key to creating depth into your digital life. These gaps (actual time away from a digital interaction) helps you process, consider, and ultimately enjoy that digital experience to its fullest. The lack of gaps between our digital interactions is what creates a lack of depth and does not allow a humanistic connection. Our continual jumping from one digital experience to another is becoming an epidemic. Powers also provides several practical applications that we can implement into our daily lives to help create more of these gaps. A few that I found compelling where: Switching from your E-reader to a paperback book. Give your eyes a break from a screen and allow your real fingers to touch real paper. Dusting off your old CD's or records instead of using your digital device when listen to music. Don't skip from song to song, but let an entire album play from beginning to end. Provide physical distance between you and the digital world. Maybe that looks like camping for the weekend, or going for a long walk with the phone left at home. A very practical habit to begin would be to put your phone in the glove box when you are driving. Let your mind processes, wander, and daydream while you drive. Intentionally interact with the physical world. Maybe thats yard work, building something, or playing a sport. Set a digital curfew when all digital devices are turned off. Disconnect your homes WIFI for a day (or even a weekend! Oh the humanity!). Create a digital free room in your home. And one Idea I have recently adopted is to return your calendar back to paper format (Moleskin users unite!).
When I first heard William Powers do an interview on Hamlet's BlackBerry. I was really excited to read it. In that interview Mr. Powers mentioned how he first was writing about this topic it was in ashorter article. Eventually he got around to fleshing this idea out more and publishing this book. At times, this book did feel like it was an article that was being stretched into a book. By the turn of the last page thought, I had enjoy it. If you are interested in monitoring your digital intake and gathering a few digital diet tips, give Hamlet's BlackBerry a go...... in paperback of course.
I love everything about books. The feel of the page between your fingers, the sound of a book spine cracking, even the smell of an old dust jacket. Looking to share that passion with others.