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The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection [Kindle Edition]

Michael Harris

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The End of Absence is a genial and philosophical tour through one man's anxieties surrounding digital life (The New York Times)

Harris has caught, with brilliant fidelity and incisiveness, a hinge-point in modern history: Before and After the Digital Rapture. The End of Absence deserves a place alongside Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death and Sherry Turkle's Life on the Screen. A great, important (and fun) read. I couldn't in good conscience lend out my copy: every other page is dog-eared (Bruce Grierson, author of What Makes Olga Run)

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 Worst. Person. Ever. and Generation X)

The End of Absence is a beautifully written and surprisingly rousing book. Michael Harris scans the flotsam of our everyday, tech-addled lives and pulls it all together to create a convincing new way to talk about our relationship with the Internet. He has taken the vague technological anxiety we all live with and shaped it into a bold call for action (Steven Galloway, author of The Confabulist and The Cellist of Sarajevo)

Everybody over sixty should read this book. The rest of the population will need no urging, unless they are too far gone to read anything longer than a blurb. The first part reads like a horror story, a shocking mind-thriller. In the second half the author, despite real foreboding, demonstrates in his own person that all is far from lost. Relief, after much learning (Margaret Visser, author of Much Depends on Dinner)

In this thoughtful, well-written book, Michael Harris combines personal narrative with the views of experts to show us that the digital revolution that envelops us contains traps that can lead us to understand less even as we seem to know more (Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice and Practical Wisdom)


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.


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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 4.2 von 5 Sternen  54 Rezensionen
49 von 52 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Wanted: The Sound (and Practice) of Absence 18. Juli 2014
Von James J. Kane - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
"Soon enough, nobody will remember life before the Internet. What does this unavoidable fact mean?" from chapter 1 This Kills That

I read the majority of Michael Harris' The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection prior to trip with nearly twenty young adults and teenagers to a youth convention of nearly five thousand of them and finished it prior to an eight day vacation which I promised my wife I would refrain from getting on the computer, and thus the Internet, during both events.

I failed as I:

tweeted about the event during the event (and was encouraged to tweet)

dialogued with some people via my cell phone (a non-smart one, by the way) via Facebook private messaging,

and exchanged texts with a colleague about what faced me after my 12 day "absence."

And Harris' words about the lack of absence, -a state in which free time is becoming less and less experienced, were a constant reminder about his fear that the "digital natives" of this age will never experience such absence but instead be consumed by the constant demands of a smart-phone world, - served as a reminder to me of a constant battle that I, as part of what Harris calls the Before generation, the generation who remembers what life was like before the Internet, now fight.

Some might read The End of Absence and consider it a rant by someone who is too introverted or sensitive to handle the new reality of on-line life. Others might read it and think that it is a call to a new kind of digital monasticism. I don't think so either way. Rather I think that Harris argues that intentional absences must become a part of our lives so that absence keeps us in touch with our humanity.

Divided into nine chapters, Harris uses a combination of history as he recounts the changes resulting from the Gutenberg press; current scientific research related to brain waves and malleability of the human brain to adopt to the changes current technology is causing; human resource management as he speaks with motivational speakers about how to keep technology within limits so that personal and corporate productivity is enhanced; literary criticism with the stories of how the democratization of book reviews and other once "elitist" activities are changing how people read and buy books; and the personal stories of how the digital world we now inhabit causes people such Amanda Todd to take her own life while seeking meaningful connection from this same digital world that so abused her. As such, End of Absence is a fast-paced book that weaves throughout these fields while Harris weaves in his own wrestling and journey to unplug from the digital world for one month.

I found the following chapters to challenge my thinking regarding the value and need for absence in order to think, remember, even believe in a larger context than what appears on my phone and computer screens.

Chapter 3 - Confession was thought provoking one as it addreses the issues of acceptance and how our on-line confessions are taking us away from working through "the mysteries of our own existence without reference to the demands of an often ruthless public."

Chapter 5 - Authenticity serves as a reminder that the importance of personal experience is slowly being replaced by a digital life in which "we can maintain confident-if technically less authentic-versions of ourselves."

Chapter 7 - Memory (The Good Error) took me back to Malcolm Gladwell's thoughts on memory in his book Outliers as Harris suggests that "human memory" (compared to digital memory) "was never meant to call up things, after all, but rather explore the richness of exclusion, of absence."

Harris' book serves as a reminder to me and, he hopes (so do I), to others that the need for absence is a critical one in order for us to live a life untethered to our technology. Or, as Harris says,

"Give yourself permission to go without one weekend - without any screens you look at when you are bored... Ask yourself what might come from all those silences you've been filling up."

I think Henry David Thoreau would be pleased.
34 von 41 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
3.0 von 5 Sternen A McLuhanesque look at the effect of new technologies on society & the individual 8. Juli 2014
Von JackOfMostTrades - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
I sympathize with the author's frustration with the wi-fi/internet/smart phone overlord running our lives, but I think he could have done a better job in looking at the issue.

I'm being a bit harsh with my three-star rating, but in truth, this book does not offer anything more than what anyone with common sense would deduce about the 'internet generation,' say people born after 1985. That we are now more distracted, more attention-divided, more sound/image/thought-bite oriented in direct correlation to one's year of birth seems pretty obvious if you walk down any city street (or suburban street for that matter). What the author does is add to this commonly observed phenomenon by introducing some sociological analyses, neurological and brain research to provide empirical data for these changes, and cite oft-mentioned references from Plato to Sherry Turkle to Elizabeth Eisenstein that have been used time and again in 'media effects' books. Now if you haven't read much about media effects, technological determinism, or diminishing attention spans or internet culture and their effects, this book is a good introduction, but I've been to this party already and I want to leave -- Hopefully I can -- unlike the guests in the movie The Exterminating Angel.

The title refers to the idea that we just can't "be" anymore; we have to be doing. It used to be boom boxes and television and comic books that had this effect, but with the constantly connected, we've reached total saturation. But do we have a choice? A confounding variable in the divisions proffered in this book (pre-internet generation, intermediate internet generation, internet generation) is that the people numb to their mediated lives and whose identities are at least partially formed by the internet/smart phone obsession are younger than the pre-internet bunch. So is it the era one is born in or is it one's age that encourages us to be constantly connected? I think that self-awareness and choice comes with experience, so to my mind, it's too early to tell what the outcome will be.

Finally, what's left out is the P.T. Barnum factor. With more sophisticated ways of attracting more suckers, the economic engine that benefits from a society latched onto the wireless world like people with chronic kidney diseases hooked up to dialysis machines.

Where are the books that echo the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" for the constant connection generation? Maybe they're irrelevant. Most would not read them, and those that would wouldn't need to.
10 von 11 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen A thoughtful (and thought-provoking) exploration of the risks and benefits of online life. 4. August 2014
Von Kcorn - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
After author Michael Harris took an editing job at Vancouver magazine in 2008, he became aware that he was spending more time "managing content instead of creating it". In an Internet connected world, monitoring Twitter and Facebook feed became vital activities. Harris found himself in a state of "continuous partial attention", reading emails or answering texts or mobile phone calls but unable to keep up with the deluge of information that required a response. .

Eventually, the pace - and insanity - got to him and he quit his job. He wanted relief from the pressure and demands of constant digital communication. He craved the chance to experience true "absence" from all the devices that filled in the blank spaces and sucked up his time.

And what IS there when one steps away from all the digital world, from mobile phones to Internet to cable television..and more? What actually happens when there is time to take a breath and resist the urge to check emails several times a day ( even on vacation)?

Harris makes a strong case for the importance of questioning the world of "constant communication" afforded by today's digital lifestyle. But I don't want to give the impression that this is a book focused on attacking technology and the Internet. Harris fully acknowledgment the Internet's gifts. But there are also cautions. There are reminders of the risks of digital life: online bullying, texting instead of talking, substituting role-playing games for personal interaction.

The part of the book I found most compelling was when Harris took a month long "sabbatical" from online life. No Internet. No mobile phone. No Twitter, Facebook, text messages, Google searches. He tells his editors, friends, and family that they'll have to leave messages on his phone... but he won't be checking those messages.

I don't want to give away too much so I'll let those who buy this book discover what happens by the end of the month but it isn't surprising that things don't go smoothly at the beginning of that month.. Harris has frequent withdrawal pangs. He has to fight the urge to check email (he even dreams of receiving emails). A sense of isolation sets in, especially since he works from home rather than in an office where he can chat with co-workers.

Reading his daily journal inspired me to think deeply about my own online life. I've made some changes. And ultimately, as Harris describes so well throughout this book, we "decide how we want to interact with the various technologies and the benefits - and risks - that arise. " Being mindful of both the negatives and positives is vital for making choices that lead to a more balanced life - both on and off the Internet.
9 von 10 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen The end of absence 8. August 2014
Von LibraryGirl2014 - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts (Was ist das?)
As a first-wave Gen X er (I'm 45), I'm not really a digital native, but I'm comfortable with most technologies. I still refuse to stay plugged in 24/7. Most of the time, I use my cellphone to screen my calls. I never text anyone, and I get annoyed from receiving texts. I find Facebook mildly useful for keeping up with friends and family, but beyond that it is a never-ending scrolling marquee of annoying. I love the premise of this book - that future generations won't know what the loss of lack will mean. With every kind of information and connection available to you at your fingertips, it's hard to feel the absence of anyone or anything. In a way, it creates a loss of the kind of enveloping comfort I felt, as a child in the 70s, of really being very shielded from the rest of the world. It was less so in the suburbs, but visiting my grandparents' farm on summer vacations, and spending long lazy days just reading books on the porch and petting my dog, with zero contacts from home or office, is something Millennials will find hard to understand and appreciate.
5 von 6 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen No time left for anything, least of all thinking -- 4 & 1/2 stars 16. November 2014
Von William Timothy Lukeman - Veröffentlicht auf
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
While there have been several excellent books about the effects of the digital age on human concentration & depth of thought -- Nicholas Carr's "The Shallows" remains the benchmark, I think -- this particular book by a writer on the cusp of this immense change in human experience speaks quite effectively about one major aspect: the loss of empty time & space, the absence where contemplation & reflection take place, where experience is slowly transmuted into richer Being.

Author Michael Harris certainly is no stranger to the delights of digital distraction -- in speaking of his month away from connection, the necessity of wearing a watch is hopelessly old-fashioned to him -- but he's just old enough to remember life before the digital age, when there was plenty of open, free, undistracted time, without incessant interruptions & updates. More importantly, there was no need for them, no addictive craving for what constitutes the water in which we all swim now.

Certainly this transformation hasn't been all bad, as evidenced by the ability to share our thoughts on this book right here, for instance. But looking back on previous information upgrades, we can see that the same promises were made about them as well. Edward R. Murrow first saw television as "a university of the airwaves" -- and now we've got "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" & "Real Housewives" & "Duck Dynasty" providing very different life lessons to the masses. Cable TV was going to provide a niche for everything, as was satellite TV, and then streaming -- but we've got 1000+ channels showing the same 40 or 50 popular movies, bad sitcom reruns, and (un)reality shows galore; the brief flowering of arts channels is long gone, and even PBS is horribly dumbed down. And what are digital devices used for most? Porn, self-promotion, and brain-dead trivia.

More than that, though -- Harris points out that as we outsource our skills to devices, we lose those skills ourselves. A common phrase these days: "Why do I have to know that? I can just Google it." And of course we can. Yet knowing how to find a fact is not the same as knowing it, both for itself & for its place in a larger context. What we have in fact is "knowledge" that covers the globe but is thinner than tissue paper -- and is just as easily torn.

So why 4 & 1/2 stars instead of 5? Because of a personal caveat. Harris repeatedly states that technology is neither good or bad in itself. I disagree -- as Jerry Mander pointed out nearly 40 years ago, all technology embodies its own agenda from the start. For example, the internal combustion engine not only means swifter travel, but also means the importance of oil, the rise of corporate monopolies, the national policies based on maintain those monopolies. Whatever the best intentions of some, anything that changes the world & generates both profits & power has an ethical, moral component. A technology can't just be considered as neutral, not in a specific culture & worldview. In this, I feel Harris is short-sighted.

Still, that's just a caveat. The book is a fine introduction to the issues at hand, and should send the reader to further books on the subject. My final thought: the glittering digital future is predicated on power & infrastructure remaining whole & functioning. But as the world runs out of renewable resources, and the population continues to grow, what happens when the machine stops (to reference E. M. Forster's prescient novella of 100 years ago)? If & when that happens, those who've hung onto supposedly obsolete skills will be in a far better position than those who've surrendered their souls to their devices.

Highly recommended to the thoughtful reader!
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