Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Hamlet’s Blackberry’

My New Library Card

In Books, Reading, Technology, Writing on November 12, 2010 at 2:59 pm

There are books I want to read and own. And there are books I want to just read. So, there being a “read only” book currently in my purview, I marched up to the newly renovated Portland public library and got a library card. I am embarrassed to admit that it is the first library card I’ve had in, maybe, twenty years.

I live in a small place now, already filled with enough books, such that book overflow is beginning to occur in my man-cave office-study in town. Too, there are hundreds of books still back in Maryland, books which presumably will never make their way north to Maine. Also, libraries are green. It is a benchmark recycling notion, this business of taking a book, reading it, and returning it for someone else to enjoy.

I have been thinking a great bit about the impact of technology on modern life. The theme has been explored in a number of posts here. There is a book, Hamlet’s Blackberry, by William Powers which explores this question. Here’s the jacket blurb:

At a time when we’re all trying to make sense of our relentlessly connected lives, this revelatory book presents a bold new approach to the digital age. Our computers and mobile devices do wonderful things for us. But they also impose an enormous burden, making it harder for us to focus, do our best work, build strong relationships, and find the depth and fulfillment we crave.

Using his own life as laboratory and object lesson, and drawing on such great thinkers as Plato, Shakespeare and Thoreau, Powers shows that digital connectedness serves us best when it’s balanced by its opposite, disconnectedness.

Exactly! Powers has been interviewed on PBS & NPR, the book has been discussed in the Wall Street Journal, by Diane Rehm and Katie Couraic. It’s been on the Time’s Best Seller List. Where am I going with this? The library doesn’t have a copy! Nor can they get me one! (I do not use exclamation marks arbitrarily, I want to point out.) I suddenly am feeling as if I live in a remote backwater outpost. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration, granted. It’s just a disappointing first library experience. When I pointed out to the librarian, a congenial woman with a terrible hacking cough, all of the above, the press notices, the interviews and so forth, she as much as challenged me, wondering out loud if it really was on the best seller’s list.

I know my reading tends to the esoteric, but this is mainstream, for god’s sake.

Enough ranting. In a follow-up visit I picked up Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Chatiwin’s The Songlines–both books I need to refresh myself with for a piece I’m working on. They had the books. No surprise there. I should point out: both books were likely purchased long before the library budget started to get directed to DVDs and audio books, movies and CDs, which were the articles everyone was checking out at the front desk. It would be ironic if libraries were, in the fashion of my experience, to contribute to the death of the written word, being presumably the last bastion of orderliness in the messy digital war of ideas (or lack thereof).

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This just in: “Nearly 2,000 volunteers lined up on the Akoni Pule Highway on Saturday to form a human chain, so they could pass the thousands of books – or huki puke, in Hawaiian – over a mile and a third down the road to the new library.” Check out: Good library news.

Review of Miscellany

In Books, Reading, Technology, Wisdom on November 5, 2010 at 8:17 am

In a piece called Generation Why? one of my favorite contemporary writers, Zadie Smith, reviews The Social Network in The New York Review of Books. I mentioned it because I found the movie an unlikely favorite, a sort of Melvillian study in obsession, à la Moby Dick, but with a computer replacing the whale.

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There is a terrific article in the current The New Yorker on Daniel Patrick Moynihan‘s collection of correspondence and letters. I confess to infrequently investing in a full reading of a New Yorker article, but this one was different. I knew of Moynihan, of course, but didn’t really know why I knew of him.  Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” The piece is a nice introduction. Where are the Moynihans of today?

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My favorite local beer–local or not, always a favorite–is Allagash White. But there is a contender, though not local, but close. Three Philosophers beer from Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown. I mention it because of the label description, which reads: “cultured yet wild, curious yet wise.” If one were so inclined, there is an apt and wonderful epitaph.

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In the category: Not yet read but going to read: Hamlet’s Blackberry. As you may know from reading my occasional rants here, I am conflicted over the import of technology on our lives. This book takes up the question. One reviewer, quoted on the author’s homepage, states: “To those dithering over whether to close down Facebook accounts, resign from the Twitterati, and resume a more contemplative and more properly connected life, this remarkable book presents the answers and the validations for which you have been hoping.  William Powers, brave in intent and wise in argument, offers in these pages an oasis of serenity and sanity, a sanctuary from a world fast turning into a limitless digital Sahara.

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There are three blogs I read regularly. I thought I should link them here. There is The Millions, a site for readers. It was here I started my David Foster Wallace Infinite Jest journey. There is The Rumpus, a terrific site for all things cultural (popular). And then, The Nervous Breakdown, an energetic blog of ideas and notions, leaning in the writerly direction. I contribute regularly to The Nervous Breakdown (TNB). To wit, a new essay, “I have no natural capacity for anything.”

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I leave you with a quote: “Doubting pleases me no less than knowing.” ~ Dante