The End of Absence

The End of Absence

Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection

Format
Hardcover
 
Additional Formats
  • Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781591846932
  • 256  Pages
  • Current
  • Adult

Overview

“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.

Praise

“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
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