Okay, everyone, settle down, and stop your goddamn clickety-clicking and distracted surfing!
I have analog media to promote (look, a book!), or, if you must, some kindling for your Kindle, an iBook to get your little greasy fingerprints all over. This is the full Tonsil blog endorsement of Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by William Powers. It just came out. I got to read a galley a while back. You’ll soon be reading about it in all the right places.
‘Cause there’s a movement afoot, and books to go along with it (such as the slightly, faintly similar The Shallows by Nicholas Carr), and it is this: Everyone slow the fuck down. Where are we going in such a hurry? Are we sure want to go there? What will happen when we get there, besides the death of thinking, writing, keeping, knowing? Is it too late for our crazybrains? Have we already lost contemplation, rumination?
This book gets at all that. It’s a combination of essay, history, and some smart suggestions for unplugging just enough to breathe and consider. William Powers is a friend I’ve never spent time with. I know his wife, Martha Sherrill, better. They both served in the trenches of The Washington Post Style section and wrote tons of great stories, and even long after they left, came to my aid when I had to write “The List” of ins and outs. They now live this tranquil-sounding life on Cape Cod (year round) with their son. From the snowdrifts, they send lovely hand-drawn Christmas cards that cause in me a sort of longing and admiration for their happiness. (It’s okay, I love it.) Check out Martha’s ongoing blog about the local neighborhood dump. No, don’t! Focus on THIS. Stop being so skittish and webby.
Hamlet’s BlackBerry offers a window on life at the Powers-Sherrill household, where there’s an “Internet sabbath” in effect from Friday night to Monday morning. I think a lot of people are able to (or try to) manage that sort of habit — blogger culture has been especially good about upholding a weekend and holiday ethic (“blogging will be light — I’ll be making apple pies for the holiday and swimming in the river and you shouldn’t be online anyhow! See you Monday” etc), if only to project an image of holistic living, i.e., I’m too busy kayaking to blog now.
Alas, for me, too many weekends are spent in some terribly pointless web surfing, blogging, e-mailing, YouTube watching, etc.
One of my favorite things Bill wrote (and apparently one of David Carr’s favorites, too) was about the onslaught of “Did You See?” that infected our culture in the mid-2000s. (I like to write it as Didjusee?) It was about the beginning of the Internet all-you-can-eat buffet and the end of people actually reading or considering all the links they were clicking on or re-linking (now called retweeting). It no longer mattered. The question was only “Didjusee what so-and-so wrote on Slate?” “Didjusee the Lindsey Lohan video on TMZ?” “Didjusee what Mitt Romney told the Times?” Didjusee? Didjusee?
Ah, but did you read it as well? Usually no.
This is a gentle book that describes what’s happening to paper and to life. It starts with Bill musing on what the Internet has done to us, and can any of it possibly be undone, or done better?
Then he even-more-gently walks us through some moments in history when thinkers and writers had to accept technological changes: Socrates had to accept that Gen Y’ers like Phaedrus liked to keep discourses and speeches on scrolls, so they could carry them around read them again and again, without all that talking. In Shakespeare’s world, people had to get used to the new annoying habit of everyone carrying scratch pads around, to take notes and jot down information. (i.e., Hamlet’s BlackBerry, which sort of sounds like one of these.) Gutenberg gave us a world where we could disappear into books and newspapers and tune out the world. (Are you even listening to me? etc.)
Finally, Hamlet’s BlackBerry seeks some ways in which we can make use of our new technologies and still have a life with one another. It’s a beginner’s guide for training oneself to survive the current renaissance — a tumult I think won’t be settled until long after we’re all dead. Forget jobs and media and making a living; I would just like to survive this revolution with my brain intact. Wouldn’t you?
So, hooray for Hamlet’s BlackBerry. I was sent two copies from the publisher and have pressed them into the duties of book promotion. However, I’ve purchased an additional two copies, one for me to keep AND ONE THAT I’M HAPPY TO GIVE TO A DESERVING SOUL. Simply e-mail me here (go to “contact” in the nav bar) before July 16, 2010 and tell me why you want it. (Like we did with Kim Severson’s book.)
PS: Bill’s on tour. If you live in Washington, go see him at Politics & Prose on July 20!