Hamlet's Blackberry

Hamlet’s Blackberry is a quirky title for a compelling book that causes readers to think of today’s technology in light of timeless principles such as personal distance, space, inwardness, and others. It is an elegant and eloquent treatise on tech tools and how we as humans can better navigate and negotiate their usage in daily life, both personally and professionally.

Written by former Washington Post technology writer William Powers, the book’s title is an allusion to the erasable writing tablet—the Blackberry of its time—used by Shakespeare’s character Hamlet. The underlying theme of the book is that we are more capable of coping with our digital devices than we give ourselves credit for but we must exercise self-restraint with them, including declaring “Internet Sabbaths,” as Powers and his wife do each weekend.

Alluding to the book’s subtitle, “A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age,” Powers writes: “Technology and philosophy are both tools for living, and the best tools endure and remain useful over long periods of time.” To that end, the author explores the lives of luminaries like Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Franklin, and Thoreau to uncover their respective philosophies for coping with the technology of their times.

Speaking of philosophy, Powers explains in his introduction that “We’ve effectively been living by a philosophy, albeit an unconscious one. It holds that (1) connecting via screens is good, and (2) the more you connect, the better. I call it Digital Maximalism, because the goal is maximum screen time.” As readers of Hamlet’s Blackberry are reminded, more is not necessarily better, and minimalism is quickly becoming the method for keeping tech in check.