Friday, August 8, 2014

Fresh Ink: Spotlight on Debut Books of All Kinds

"Every revolution in communication technology—from papyrus to the printing press to Twitter—is as much an opportunity to be drawn away from something as it is to be drawn toward something. And yet, as we embrace a techonology's gifts, we usually fail to consider what we're giving up in the process. Why would we bother to register the end of solitude, of ignorance, of lack? Why would we care that an absence had disappeared?"

Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the Internet. What does this unavoidable fact mean?

For future generations, it won’t mean anything very obvious. They will be so immersed in online life that questions about the Internet’s basic purpose or meaning will vanish.

But 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, mid-conversation, 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 one that future generations will find hardest to grasp. That 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 own thoughts.

To understand our predicament, and what we should do about it, Harris explores this “loss of lack” in chapters devoted to every corner of our lives, from sex and commerce to memory and attention span. His book is a kind of witness for the “straddle generation”—a burst of empathy for those of us who suspect that our technologies use us as much as we use them.

By placing our situation in a rich historical context, Harris helps us remember which parts of that earlier world we don’t want to lose forever. He urges us to look up—even briefly—from our screens. To remain awake to what came before. To again take pleasure in absence.

Read Harris's article "Why We Must Teach Digital Natives How to Be Alone" HERE.

Praise for the book:
"This is a lovely, direct and beautifully written book that will make you feel good about living in the times we do. Michael Harris is honest in a way I find increasingly rare: clear, truthful and free of vexation. A true must-read." ~ Douglas Coupland, author of Generation X and Worst. Person. Ever. 

"The End of Absence is one of those rare books that change how you think about your own existence. It's wise, humane and full of original insights about life in the crazy/beautiful connected world we've built for ourselves. I read it with pen in hand, underlining the whole way." ~William Powers, author of Hamlet's Blackberry

"Michael Harris has written an important book for our information-overloaded times of ironic hashtag conversations and idealized online avatars. The End of Absence is a forceful, insightful and ultimately human reminder to us all that information is not wisdom, that speed is not depth, that in the pauses of solitude come authenticity and surprise, and that the empty spaces we so desperately and busily have sought to fill in, as he writes, never were so barren after all." ~Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed, Washington Post staff writer, New America Foundation fellow 

"Harris stirs history, technology, philosophy and personal memoir into a bittersweet narrative. Put down your damn phone, read this book, and remember what you’ve lost—and what you can regain by embracing the analog truth of your soul."~Charles Montgomery, author of Happy City

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