The Over-Connected World

July 16, 2010

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers.  He writes about the common feeling of being over-connected, never being out of touch, and the challenges this over-connectivity brings to our yearnings to live meaningfully.

Hamlet's Blackberry by William Powers

Powers reminds us that we need not become addicted to our cell phones, portable devices, e-mail, internet, etc.  We can control how frequently and how often we connect.  Yes, the myriad connecting tools we have in our toolboxes are useful and immeasurably enhance our daily lives, but we need to examine how we use them.  Powers thinks there is plenty of opportunity for transforming these tools to “instruments of creativity, depth, and transcendence.”  

I’ve tried to be selective in incorporating digital tools into my life.  I still don’t have a cell phone, for example.  People know they can reach me at home or at work, and leave voice mail messages if I’m not in. I use e-mail for scheduling daily activities, which means I have to plan ahead a bit, and this is my preference anyway.  I don’t want to be available 24/7, even to family and friends.  I require a lot of solitude, time by myself. 

I don’t even like to plug into music or the radio as I walk and go about my daily activities.  I just don’t like wearing ear-plugs.  (I don’t like to wear sunglasses, either.  I much prefer looking at the world in its natural color.)

I don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account and have yet to hear about how they might benefit me or enhance my life.  It’s probably ironic, then, that I have a blog and like to read the posts of a few favorite bloggers.  I do want people to read my blog, but I’d probably continue to post even if no one read it.  I get so many personal benefits from blogging.  It’s a great excuse to review my photos and select the best one or two from each shoot.  The blog gets my photos out into the world.  Blogging is one way to organize and reflect on the many quotes and poems I’ve copied out over the years.  Having a blog makes me more alert to the natural world, as I’m now always looking for things worthy of a blog post as I go through my days. I have to say that I enjoy creating my blog posts more than just reading and commenting on other blogs.  I like the doing of it.

I like learning a new technology, such as blogging, by reading about it and then trying it out and practicing with it in my daily life.  But I can focus on just one thing at a time, so I haven’t become inundated with other technologies and advances.  I know I’m probably leaving some great tools on the table.  Maybe I’ll pick them up and use them down the road.

Coincidentally (or not), one of the bloggers I follow has decided to disconnect from the internet and her blog for four weeks.  She says, “But I’m here to let you know I’m going away for another 4 weeks. I need a break. My creative mind has packed up and moved out and none of my usual tactics are wooing her back. I can’t take any holidays at the moment so I’m doing the next best thing. I’m going off-line for four whole weeks. No internet. No television. Crazy huh? I’m allowing email because I still have to work but I’m looking forward to getting back to basics so I can focus on process again and coerce that creative brain of mine back.

“I spend a lot of time on-line. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I do before I go to sleep at night. And the more I think about THAT, the more uncomfortable I feel. Don’t get me wrong. I love the internet. I love my RSS reader, connecting with friends, reading blogs, design journals, tutorials, on-line magazines, shopping and banking, renewing my library books, facebook, flickr, following twitter feeds, reading the latest news, clicking links for hours and hours, scanning, skimming, researching. But it’s come to that point in the relationship where I’ve heard myself whisper “I need a break ….. It’s not you …. It’s me”. All of that clicking and skimming has come at the cost of creative time and I want that time back.”

I loved reading about what she plans to do during this time off-line. (You can link to her post at

Powers has some good ideas for figuring out how to be in the driver’s seat with digital tools rather than being driven by them.  He rather cleverly looks to lessons from other great philosophers and thinkers that he/we can apply in our own lives.  From Plato, for example, he finds the lesson of taking breaks from the screens, actually creating some physical distance from being always connected during the day or week.  During these gaps or down times, your mind will automatically reflect on and deepen the experience of the connections, and such depth is what creates meaningful lives.  From Seneca, we learn to “Choose one idea a day to think about more deeply.  Train the mind to tune out the chaos, through the art of concentration.”  From Thoreau, we learn to make our homes a refuge or a sanctuary from the hyper-connected world.

We live in interesting times.  I am still invigorated rather than depleted by the idea that there are tools out there that can improve my life and my creativity.  I just come to them slowly.


2 Responses to “The Over-Connected World”

  1. Lynne Says:

    This is such a relevant topic for the way we live now. I was just reading about another man who gave up electronic connectivity for 6 months, and what it did for him. The whole theme of adulthood (from family life to diet to technology, and on)seems to me to be about finding balance. This seems a particularly Western, modern problem, since we live in a society and an age where we have enough leisure time to ponder our own existence and quality of life – a luxury, really, when so many people have to struggle just to survive each day. There are so many facets of this to explore!

  2. […] The Over-Connected World, July 16, 2010 […]

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