diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 06, 2009

I've never had a BlackBerry.

Not the fruit, you understand, but the mobile handheld device. The thin shiny thing with the qwerty keyboard and the big display. The pocket communicator with a pulsing red light and push email capabilities. That sort of BlackBerry. I've never had one, nor used one, nor wanted one, nor been offered one. What's wrong with me?

If I were more important I'd have one. Everybody on the rung above me at work was given one last year, but I have to make do with ordinary 20th century PC-based email. They have a permanent freebie connection to the outside world, and I don't. They're always on, and I'm always off. They sit in meetings tapping away under the table, responding promptly to some urgent incoming missive, and I'm forced to sit there listening to some tedious bloke droning on because I don't have a sanctioned excuse to look away. For all I know they're not really responding to anything at all. Maybe they've just set up their Blackberry to vibrate at ten minute intervals so that they can look important. Maybe they're flicking through their calendar to arrange a liaison with that girl from accounts. Maybe they're checking the latest tennis score, or buying shares, or sharing a rude joke with the manager sitting on the opposite side of the table. Whatever, I sit in meetings all alone with my pen and paper, and they've got the entire world at their fingertips.

I still live in a sub-BlackBerry world. If I need to check my calendar while I'm out of the office, I need a paper-based diary that might not even be up-to-date. If an important email comes round last thing in the afternoon after I've gone home, the first I know is 15 hours later when I log onto my PC the following morning. If I need to trawl through an important series of decision-heavy emails with essential attachments, I can only do that whilst sat at a single desk in a single building in a single city. And if I'm on leave when my boss has an urgent problem, he can't contact me wherever I am in the country and expect a response within minutes. Oh hang on a second, maybe not having a BlackBerry is actually a very good thing.
"For those of you unconnected with business, the way Blackberryists interface with their phones may be unfamiliar. Typically he or she will have been given the handset by their employer. This is not an act of generosity. The device is a kind of leash, a digital ball and chain not far from the electronic tag that convicts on parole are forced to wear." (Stephen Fry) (who else?)
I often see BlackBerry owners lost in their own inner world, eyes glazed over, absorbed in unseen stimulation. I see seemingly independent people giving up control to a powerful external force that's surreptitiously taken over their waking hours. I see distracted folk repeatedly checking to see if their next hit has arrived, because that next hit is all important. I see twitching hands, and a faraway look, and the telltale under-eye signs of disrupted sleep. These users say they could quit any time, but I wonder how they'd cope if their lifeline were suddenly snatched away. Addictive? Surely not.

I have a life outside work. If it's eight o'clock in the evening, I'm off limits. If I'm at lunch when something needs doing, I'm not expected to drop everything to do it. I spend my journeys to and from work reading the paper, not clearing my inbox. I don't jump every time my BlackBerry pings only to discover that I have junk mail. If I'm working away from my desk I'm not tempted to distract myself from the task in hand when I should be concentrating on what actually needs doing now. I still work out of professionalism, not out of duty. OK, so I might be the last person in the office to know about tomorrow's meeting, or to read the funny email about what two colleagues got up to last night, but that's a small price to pay for relative freedom. Hell, who'd be 'important' at work? Give me BlackBerryLessNess any day.

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