Do you almost constantly find yourself in front of a “screen”? That is, your computer, or your smart phone, or your television, or any other connective device? Do you sometimes feel that you need more face-to-face interactions, or moments of quiet, undistracted reflection? Journalist William Powers addresses just this problem in Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building the Good Life in the Digital Age (Harper, 2011). We’d do well to take his cue and ask ourselves:
“Does your screen time help you think and work better? Does it deepen your ties to your friends? Does it help you find that much-needed distance and space?… Do you come away in a better state of mind than you were in to begin with?” (130)
Taking examples from the lives of Plato, Seneca, Shakespeare, Franklin, and Thoreau, among others, Powers shows us how we can “strike a healthy balance between connected and disconnected, crowd and self, the outward life and the inward one” (210). Powers is no alarmist. His book is not a wrongheaded denunciation of our love of devices but rather a wise and practical attempt to find a better way of relating to our world without banishing our beloved devices. As he writes, “the point is not to withdraw from the world but within the world” (192).
Powers offers simple tips for finding that “happy balance”:
– “Domestic zoning”: “Every home could have at least one Walden Zone, a room where no screens of any kind are allowed” (191). [This is adapted from Thoreau’s famous retreat to Walden Pond.]
– Take a walk outside, leaving your phone at home
– Take an out-of-town holiday, leave all screens at home (or off)
– Travel low-tech [do you really need your iPad and your Kindle and your smart phone for that two hour trip to see visit your friend?]
– Have a focused, undistracted conversation with a friend
– Have your friends, not “screens”, tell you what’s happening in the world (e.g. What are the headlines? Who’s tied the knot? What was the latest political gaffe?)
– Turn off the Internet in your computer if you want to do focused, quality work
– Keep certain hours of the day screen-free (e.g. not checking your e-mail early in the morning or late at night, practices which create a ‘workaholic cycle’)
Lastly, I dedicate this post to my sister, Carolina (who loves her “screens”!), because today is her birthday and because she gave me this book on my 22nd birthday. I love her dearly, and am so glad she’s my sister!