Michael Harris identifies as a member of the last generation to have experienced adult life without the Internet (he identifies 1985 as the birth year separating digital natives from “digital immigrants”). Arguably, then, he sits in an authoritative position to discuss advantages and disadvantages of the online paradigm shift, perhaps the greatest of its kind since Gutenberg invented moveable type in the 15th century. "The End of Absence" asserts that moments of solitude, slowness and contemplation have disappeared from our lives at the hands of constant connection: emails, text messages, Instagram photos and YouTube videos.
In order to examine the detrimental effects of online surfing on concentration and memory, Harris takes a month-long sabbatical from the Internet. He provides a range of thought-provoking insights in attempting to reclaim control over his inner life and he refreshingly avoids the panicked, dominating tone that pervades the work of other digital dissenters. But his conclusion breaks no new ground: the Internet has become so essential that simply "opting out" is not an option, at least for the long term.
Harris analyzes how the online world invades and degrades our modern existence with intelligence and lucidity but readers can't help feeling dissatisfied with the author's limited treatment of the concept he refers to as "absence." Many digital immigrants find nothing more depressing than watching a group of people around a restaurant table, all of them feverishly engaged with their smartphones. Does this not constitute absence? Harris indeed acknowledges this paradoxical situation but doesn’t fully pursue its implications. In the end, readers wonder if mobile technology might create not a dearth of absence, but an overabundance of it.