Hamlet's Blackberry: How to Reclaim Your Soul

Perspective is always worth the trouble it takes to achieve.  For me, this applies as much to Afghanistan -- by visiting another country, for instance -- as it does when examining one’s own choices and work patterns.  I’ve become steadily more aware over the past year  (a gnawing feeling, if you’ll pardon the cliché) of the cacophony of noise and voices amongst which we all live.  Learning how to manage all this information, I’ll venture, is one of the more important practical questions of our generation.

The volume of noise is undeniable.  In my professional life I follow developments inside Afghanistan, for the most part.  As part of this work I check 72 RSS feeds (and counting) for news each morning, sending relevant articles -- at least 30 or 40 usually -- over into my Instapaper queue to read over the course of the day.  I’m subscribed to a diet of dozens of email newsletters, some of which email me more than one time per day.  Then there are the PDFs: every day two or three small ‘studies’ on some neglected issue appear, and most find their way into the queue.  I’m a hoarder, I know, but that’s sort of the job (at least part of it).

How do you know when it is a problem, though? And what’s the remedy?

Last month while ill I read a book that gave me some hints.  Entitled “Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age,” this small engaging volume examines the role of ‘screens’ in our lives.  This includes televisions, phones, laptops, ipods, ipads etc etc.  I find this quite compelling.

Although it doesn’t cover the whole problem, finding a way to disconnect from screens is a necessary way of rebooting the brain sometimes.  Many Current Intelligence readers will surely recognise that 3am feeling: you emerge from hours chasing some fleeting internet thread, having passed down paths and read articles about things you originally had no interest in; you are slightly confused; your head is abuzz.

It needn’t happen at 3am, either, but the solution as proposed in this book is to switch off all screens.  Nothing revolutionary, and nothing you probably haven’t all read before -- who knows, maybe you’re all doing this already? -- but it’s a useful reminder. 

Switch off the internet.  Switch off your screens.  Switch off your phone.  Stop.  Breathe.  Think.