The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Review: 'End of Absence,' a thoughtful assessment of what is lost in a cluttered digital age

  • Print

"The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in a World of Constant Connection" (Current), by Michael Harris

I fall asleep to the glow of Netflix and, when I awake, begin the digital litany of my day: the relentless email and news, the Facebook and Twitter feeds, the blogs and mindless videos, and on and on. I remember somewhat vaguely when I used pay phones to dictate the story of the day, when an online life was limited to the screeching dial-up of AOL and, as a child, when even that was a foreign idea.

Michael Harris offers in his book "The End of Absence" a fascinating assessment of this moment we inhabit and, for those old enough to remember, highlights the rare opportunity we have to recall what it was like before we filled our day with unstoppable status updates, conversations interrupted by Wikipedia fact checks and the suffocating weight of thousands of emails.

It's all become so normal that it feels as if we knew all of Harris' observations before we read them, though they remain insightful and stunning and frightening. We are denizens of a world where facts are invented, true expertise is devalued, authenticity is at a premium and, more than anything else, distractions reign.

"As we embrace a technology's gifts, we usually fail to consider what they ask from us in return — the subtle, hardly noticeable payments we make in exchange for their marvelous service," he writes. "We don't notice, for example, that the gaps in our schedules have disappeared because we're too busy delighting in the amusements that fill them. We forget the games that childhood boredom forged because boredom itself has been outlawed. Why would we bother to register the end of solitude, of ignorance, of lack? Why would we care that an absence has disappeared?"

Though Harris doesn't totally answer those questions, he makes clear something has been lost, and it's hard not to agree. He may be most eloquent when he sounds an alarm on behalf of those with no memory of the world before, those young minds that have been rewired by our new normal: "I fear we are the last of the daydreamers. I fear our children will lose lack, lose absence and never comprehend its quiet, immeasurable value."

Chances are, you'll recognize yourself in Harris' writing and note that you, too, enjoyed a life without so much static. Toward the end of his concise work, he takes a monthlong sabbatical leave from the Internet and his cellphone and all their related trappings. He gains no epiphany, though, and offers no sweeping advice for readers. It is, he acknowledges, more meditation than prescription, but it is an illuminating, worthy reckoning of our disjointed, digital life.

___

Follow Matt Sedensky on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sedensky

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Premier, Mayor comment on CMHR opening

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A group of Horese pose for the camera in the early evening light at Southcreek Stables in Stl Norbert Wednessday. Sept  14, 2011 (RUTH BONNEVILLE) / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A Canada Goose cools off in a water pond Monday afternoon at Brookside Cemetary- See Bryksa’s Goose a day Challenge– Day 27-June 25, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think the Scottish independence referendum will have an effect in Canada?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google