Hamlet’s Blackberry: a book for bloggers

Good morning, and happy Friday! I finished a book a few days ago that I wanted to see if any of you have read. I think it applies to bloggers well, and most people in this day and age, so I am curious. Have you read it?

Why I read this book: I have been pondering questions about the effects of constantly being connected for quite some time, and had yet to read more than a few articles on the topic. When I saw a blogger recommend this in the comment section of a post about being overwhelmed by being constantly available, I was intrigued. 

What I thought it was about before reading it: I thought it was going to be a book about how the digital age is ruining us. I thought it was going to prove to me that my fears are real, and that as a “connected” person, I needed to think about this topic long and hard.
My thoughts reading it: Well, surprisingly, this book calmed me down, instead of making me want to throw my iphone and blog into a puddle of water. Don’t get me wrong, I have never disliked technology, or seriously considered giving up my phone or blog. It is just in those moments where I feel addicted to my phone, or checking my email, or instagram, that I hate the feeling so much, I blame the concept, instead of myself.  But Powers does a good job reminding us that we are in control of technology, and that we can use our tools wisely.

Furthermore, while reading this book, I realized I am not nearly as connected as I thought I was. I am away from my iphone most of the day, and I really do not struggle with knowing when to pull myself away from the screen, most of the time. It is the moments of feeling like I am addicted that I really struggle with–those moments when I have just checked my email five minutes ago, but because I caught another glimpse of my phone next to me, I feel my hand reaching for it, and don’t stop it. So, in that sense, this book was relieving and comforting, being reminded that balance is good and attainable.

When Powers talks about being “connected”, he is talking about being available. When he talks about “the crowd”, he is talking about, well, the entire world basically. When we are carrying a smart phone, or at a computer, we have access to the world. Sometimes that is an overwhelming feeling. Whether or not you are addicted, or simply available when anyone chooses to reach you, it is good to know how you are being affected. While he is non-alarmist, which I needed, I found his suggestions for a “better” life to be nothing profound: practical examples that we know are good for us, but sometimes need to hear outright.

However, that is not the bulk of the book. And, in fact, the bulk of the book was my favorite part. Mr. Powers travels through time, from Plato to Gutenberg to Thoreau, and proves that the questions the digital age have brought upon us are nothing new.

In ancient Greece, the written language became a threat to oral traditions. It challenged the way the entire world communicated. Imagine it: words were not written down. Everything was shared, and even recorded, through speaking, and memorization. Then, the written alphabet comes into being, and it rocks the world. Plato writes about Socrates being somewhat skeptical of the written language, and also how Socrates suffers from being constantly “connected” in Athens.

The printing press shrunk the world even further, with its powers to spread knowledge and truth, but also to “spread lies and worthless writing”, as the naysayers feared. There were skeptics in every age, whom we now look back on and laugh. 

My favorite example may have been the one that inspired the title. Powers talks about a hand-held device popular in England during the time Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. People from the Queen down were using a small tablet called a “Table”, which Hamlet talks about in the play. It was a small notepad, but the pages were made of a type of ceramic, which could be written on with a stylus, and wiped clean with a small sponge. It was the first time people were able to record thoughts, lists, ideas, anything, at a moment’s notice. And that changed how people functioned. Throughout all of time, people have always struggled with letting things control them. Nothing is new under the sun.

Why I think it is important for bloggers: A thought occurred to me while reading this book that helped ease my mind a little bit when it comes to the right balance between growing a blog, and living fully in the real world. There is a paradox in blogging that may be the biggest challenge about blogging, and it is this: Blogging is all about being connected, and encouraging other people to spend more time in front of a screen. It involves a lot of thought and time, talking to other bloggers, reading other blogs, and writing your own. But bloggers write about life which is lived outside of a screen. The paradox lies in the fact that a good blog is the result of a peaceful inner life–for me, this means a lot of praying, reading, journalling, spending time with people I love, and, essentially, looking outside of myself–all things that take a lot of time, but cannot be neglected. Writing fails when life is sucked out of it, and all that remains are words on a screen. My blog cannot grow as a result of me being glued to my screen. More time with the blog does not equal a more successful blog. So, the struggle is a given–you can’t get away from it. Finding the right balance is not impossible, and yet it is entirely crucial.

So, have you read this book? Would you want to? Do you feel like you need a better balance between “real” life and “fake” life? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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