Just finished a fascinating book that I heartily recommend to all CIOs: "Hamlet's Blackberry," by William Powers. It's a fascinating review of how this ubiquitous digital world threatens to take over our lives:

• Hardware - "screens" such as iPhones, Blackberries, PCs, iPads, etc.

• Software - email, YouTube, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

In a surprisingly erudite tale (for a techie), Powers relates our modern-day challenge of remaining human in an increasingly computer-dominated lifestyle, by harkening back to seven historical figures and how they handled emerging technologies in their eras:

·      Plato and the need to take a good, long walk away from Athens' crowds,

·      Seneca who used letters written on papyrus to stay "connected" in Rome,

·      Guttenberg whose printing press killed more trees than forest fires,

·      Hamlet's "table" which enabled him to take notes in real time,

·      Ben Franklin used ivory charts to track his philosophical "to do" list,

·      Thoreau's escape from bustling Boston to the quiet of Walden Pond, and

·      Marshall McLuhan's global village and medium massaging.

As a former English major, I could quibble worth some of the antecedents, for example, I've read Hamlet and seen it performed a dozen times, but never remembered the "table" (a wax tablet) Powers makes such a big deal about. Shakespeare mentions it just once in the opening scene, and then drops it for the rest of the riveting story, so hardly a quintessential facet of the play. However, my old college professors be damned, I think Powers hit the nail on the head about how note-taking has come to be such a crutch to our data-flooded modern brains.

Powers skirts the fine line of condemning the abuse of modern communicative technology, versus actively embracing it, confessing his own personal addictions like YouTube jazz videos at midnight, while mocking e-mail-free Fridays. Some will find this objectivity admirable, as he describes both the inevitable encroachment of technology on our psyches (from the time of telegraph, telephone, and TV, right down to the "bong" of new emails I keep hearing as I write this...), and the challenge we face of living a sane life in spite of this ever-increasing e-connectedness.

This not a great book, however, just a good one. Powers will never join his seven illustrious forbearers with this tome, but it is a fascinating trigger for readers to analyze their own e-abuses and maybe do something about them.  My biggest complaint: Powers doesn't complain enough! He steers a fine line between being a techie versus a Luddite. Myself, as I age, I'm shifting more and more from the former to the latter! A few examples:

·      To the utter chagrin of my consulting partners, my cell phone is always off, unless I'm making a call. I have heard too many rings in restaurants, museums, rest rooms, etc., to allow anyone to interrupt me whenever they want to. And why do people talk so LOUD into their cell phone!!?? I get my messages once or twice a day when I'm in the mood, and return the important calls when time and circumstances permit.

·      I check email on my PC or laptop only: squinting at a tiny Blackberry or iPhone screen is too challenging to my aging eyes (I just got my Medicare card!), and thumbing on a tiny keyboard is too painful. Not that I'm a Luddite: I bought one of the first Apple Newtons sold, and loved it for a few years. When I bought my first laptop however, I never saw the need for both devices...

·      I'm trying (my wife would say very trying) to watch less TV these days -especially the evening news. We used to eat dinner in front of the tube, but as election season approached, the attack ads ruined my appetite. Although this helped me lose weight, I'd rather try to talk to my wife than pretend either the red or blue side has all the answers...

So buy this book, enjoy its thought-provoking content and maybe improve your life by reducing e-life. But please, please, get it on paper, not Kindle!

 

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