Help on the Way

Let’s face it I am as addicted to E-mail as anyone I know. Recognize why I usually answer you promptly if you write to me, and it is because I’m on it. I don’t let a little bell or phone buzz me every single time something comes in and I suppose that is doubtfully to my credit. But I don’t have to. I’m already there looking at it.

William Powers, whose new book, Hamlet’s Blackberry, A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age reviewed in Today’s New York Times Book Review gives us some useful reminders. Rather than a guilt trip about our obsession, he posits that it may be an evolutionary leftover from paying attention to the immediate for our own protection because there may be some real meanies out there. Hello, Mel Gibson. Another cave man tactic may be to find some food – though these days it is more likely to be for thought. At the same time Powers warns us that our very distraction may be teaching others that we prefer the virtual to the real. For that reason, I try not to get distracted if any live person is within my line of vision.

Powers, who formerly wrote for the Washington Post on media and technology, is optimistic that we will smarten up. Adaptation has always been an issue. Socrates worried about the new thing known as the alphabet and thought writing would make it too easy to look things up instead of remembering them. The Gutenberg printing press was viewed by a contemporary as a way to goof off and trivialize. Hello Saturday Night Live.

But Powers thinks we will adapt sooner or later. One of the things he likes to do is jot ideas down in a Moleskine Book. At least I already do that – in a purse sized version. I have a collection of five by eight books which allow for more extensive notes. At the beginning of this year, I reread some old books and carried forward some of the better ideas. Some of the old ideas survived. Keeping a few of them around might be part of the solution – and also remembering that everyone has usually thought old technologies would destroy us. They haven’t done so quite yet. The challenges is to make choices – one at a time.