I predict a swelling market for books on the subject of 'how to' manage ubiquitous connectivity, or how to have a smartphone and a life. Better books may be coming around the corner, but in my opinion, the best book on the subject so far is William Powers' Hamlet's Blackberry. Powers is a journalist, who developed his ideas on smartphone use while a Fellow at Harvard. Besides being very well crafted, the reason this book (also available as an e-book) is so effective is that Powers is not prescribing a diet approach to the use of 'screens' (handhelds, desktops, TVs, everything with a screen), i.e., 'e-mail free Fridays.'
Rather, Powers considers 'busy-ness' and distraction as part of the human condition and demonstrates how philosophers from Plato, Seneca, Shakespeare, Thoreau and Franklin managed busy, yet contemplative lives. Powers invites us to develop a personal philosophy--what Michel Foucault called 'technologies of the self'--for a digital age. Such philosophies could be extended to teams and organizations to improve resilience and the way we work.
Powers observes, 'Thus far into this new era, we've followed a clear-cut approach: we've set out to be as connected as possible, all the time. For most of us, this was not a conscious decision. We did it without really thinking about it, not realizing there was any choice in the matter.'
'We did have a choice and still do. And, because how we live with these devices is a choice, this conundrum is really a philosophical one. It's a matter of the ideas and principles that guide us. If we continue on the current path, over time the costs of this life will erase all the benefits. The answer, therefore, is to adopt a new set of ideas and use them to live in a more thoughtful, intentional way' (p. 209).
Like Thoreau, seeking to 'live more deliberately,' philosophical choices lead us to more lasting solutions to hyper-connected, fragmented lives. As Powers continues...
'I am not just a brain, a pair of eyes, and typing fingers. I'm a person with a living body that moves through space and time. In letting screens run my life, I discount the rest of my existence, effectively renouncing my own wholeness. I live a lesser life and give less back to the world. This problem is not just individual and private; it's afflicting all our collective endeavors, in business, schools, and government and at every level of society. We're living less and giving less, and the world is the worse for it' (p. 210).
Whether the world is better or worse for all our increased connectivity, we must still come to grips with its impact on humanity. In his 2009 commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania, Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google, reminded graduates that as a connected generation, from time to time, they still should, 'Turn off your computer. You're actually going to have to turn off your phone and discover all that is human around us.'
On a personal note, being on holiday this week, I had the privilege of reconnecting with dear friends in Charlottesville, VA and Maine, which reminds me that, though we are always close to those we care about, nothing beats being able to put our arms around them and tell them we love them. Summer vacations are a perfect time to think about your personal philosophy of connectivity and to re-discover the mysteries of life.