Best-selling author and former Washington Post staff writer William Powers discussed the effects of the growing digital age on society. JACOB BLAIR

Best-selling author and former Washington Post staff writer William Powers discussed the effects of the growing digital age on society. JACOB BLAIR


In the growing age of digital technology, one has the power to make connections with the world on a single device. Aside from that device, it could be argued we have a greater relationship with the digital crowd than with our own family and friends.

Best-selling author and former Washington Post staff writer William Powers discussed the importance of a balanced, positive connection with people and technology through his book, Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, in a Chautauqua lecture Thursday, Oct. 16.

When publishing his book, Powers didn’t expect how well it would do or what audience he would connect with the most.

“One of my greatest surprises in my journey as an author was that I was able to connect with your generation,” Powers said to students when opening his presentation.

Powers showed the packed Brock Auditorium a picture of a crowd waiting for the first iPhone to be released. The picture of the eager crowd was very reminiscent of the eagerness people still have only a few years later over technology.

“Technology should make us feel connected, enlarged and open to the world,” Powers said. Our connection with technology shouldn’t overpower connections with what we have around us, Powers added.

As an example, Powers discussed how the digital age separated himself from his own family. He said he could have dinner with his wife and son, but after the meal they disappeared one by one from the table to go back to their “digital crowds.” Powers called this the “vanishing family trick.”

The vanishing family is only one part of the casualties technology can cause. Other causes include a lack in focus, immersion, engagement and depth, Powers said.

“Going deep and experiencing something yourself is the greatest thing you can do,” Powers said. “That’s what technology is depriving us of.”

In his book, Powers mentions that society now is living by the philosophy of Digital Maximalism, a theory in which society believes the more connected one is to technology, the better off they will be. Powers said he doesn’t think this philosophy is working in a beneficial way.

“Innovators today should go toward us utilizing technology instead of being cluttered,” Powers said.

After proposing the problems technology can be causing society, Powers discussed solutions to maintain a strong but positive connection with the digital crowd and the actual crowd surrounding us.

The best way to do this would be through a common phenomenon of digital detox, Powers said. Powers mentioned his own experience of digital detox with his family. After unplugging their digital crowds, they bonded and had more time to bond and expand their hobbies. Powers said his son began playing the saxophone and still enjoys doing it today. Eventually their weekly digital detox was something the whole family looked forward to.

“Distance makes the digital world more human,” Powers said.

Powers mentioned the recent development of the Laboratory of Social Machines at MIT in which Twitter has provided full access to all its tweets that have ever been posted. Using the tweets, the project will analyze the conversations and focus on developing new technologies to make sense of the social patterns across all spans of media.

Now is a great time to make a change, Powers said. Students now are the generation that have the power to define the digital age in their own way

Members of the audience took away new perspectives on how technology and the digital crowd effect themselves.

“Powers adds an important voice to the conversation about the digital revolution,” said Dr. Charlotte Rich, a professor of English at Eastern. “We can better understand ourselves and how our world is changing not only through technology but also through what others have observed through literature, history, and philosophy about these matters.”