When it comes to information and connection, we rarely want for anything these days. And that’s a problem, argues journalist Michael Harris in his new book The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection (Current, August 2014). Harris suggests that modern technology, especially the smartphone, has taken certain kinds of absence from our lives—it has eliminated our time for solitude and daydreaming, and filled even short moments of quiet with interruptions and distractions. Harris worries that these “absences” have fundamental value in human lives, and maintains that we ought to try to hold on to them.
Certain generations alive today will be the last to remember what life was like before the Internet. It is these generations who are uniquely able to consider what we’ve lost, even as we have gained the vast resources and instant connectivity of the Web and mobile communications. Now would be a good time for society to stop and think about protecting some aspects of our pre-Internet lives, and move toward a balanced future that embraces technology while holding on to absence.