Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the Internet. What does this unavoidable fact mean? Those of us who have lived both with and without the crowded connectivity of online life have a rare opportunity. We can still recognize the difference between Before and After. We catch ourselves idly reaching for our phones at the bus stop. Or we notice how, midconversation, a fumbling friend dives into the perfect recall of Google. In this eloquent and thought-provoking book, Michael Harris argues that amid all the changes we're experiencing, the most interesting is the end of absence-the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished. There's no true "free time" when you carry a smartphone. Today's rarest commodity is the chance to be alone with your thoughts. Michael Harris is an award-winning journalist and a contributing editor at Western Living and Vancouvermagazines. He lives in Toronto, Canada.
Staking a modest claim in areas explored at length by Nicholas Carr and James Gleick, Harris, a magazine journalist and author of the YA novel Homo, frets over what humanity is losing by tethering its work routines and leisure hours so closely to technology. Across nine sporadically engaging but meandering chapters, he asserts but does not prove that digital gadgetry is causing those with access to experience a downward qualitative difference in their lives. (As for the qualitative difference between, say, one schedule of television-watching and another of text-checking, the author does not provide comparative data.) In addition, he says the "straddle generation," who have experienced existence before and after the Internet, as well as those born later, are now plagued by the "end of absence," by which Harris appears to mean an inability to focus on a task such as daydreaming or reading without being distracted by texting and peeks at e-mails. Examining an assortment of interrelated subjects from online dating to "crowdsourced culture" the book serves adequately as an introductory survey of the questions it raises. Still, heavy reliance on personal anecdotes and an explicitly Couplandesque glossary suggests an author in the process of crafting a voice with something distinctive to say.
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A fantastic exploration of our relationships with modern connectivity. Rather than being preachy or judgmental, Michael Harris tries to examine the issue from multiple vantage points. Though Harris isn't without his own opinions, he puts an enormous amount of research, context, and thought into the book and his conclusions. Great for anyone who has ever pondered if we are better off with or without our devices, connections, and digital availability.