The Curse of the Blackberry: A Subtle yet Virulent Anxiety

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“In the past 20 years, the lure of instant gratification has gripped the youngest half of our population. For the hooked-up generation-those born after 1970 who are wedded to iPods and the immediacy/pervasiveness of the entertainment industry-it’s a stretch to go backwards to consider the root of things. The gratification of the moment is a distraction from thoughtful contemplation of the reasons why events happen as they do. Today, unlike 30 years ago, a good “now” is available by just turning off and plugging in. For the young, slowing down to examine things is not entertaining, and that’s too bad because it is mandatory we understand the machinery of our lives if we are to modify that machinery to produce the results we want.”
–          From Sam Carpenter’s Work The System: The Simple Mechanics of Working Less and Making More

Here I go, bucking the status-quo again, bound for trouble. This missive isn’t just about those under 30, and it isn’t just about iPods. It’s about the Blackberry, and it involves nearly everyone I know.

One day last week, after much urging from my daughter Jenny (who is an executive assistant to a vice president at Nike), I tried a Blackberry. That afternoon, Jennifer, Linda, me, and our 8-year-old granddaughter, Lexi, went to a kid’s movie. As we exited the multiplex, there was Jenny, her thumbs in a blur, checking email on her Blackberry. And, there I was standing next to her, doing the same thing on mine, albeit with less dexterous thumbs. Meanwhile, Linda and Lexi were out in the parking lot, patiently standing there as we, with heads down, silently caught up with business details right there on the curb. Completely ensconced in our little e-worlds, our family bonding was, for the moment, shattered.

I retrieved one message, looked up at Jenny, and told her I would never use a Blackberry again. I put it in my pocket and the next morning gave it back to Dan, our IT manager. In turn, he immediately returned it to the cellular store.

Maybe this was extreme, but I felt a subtle yet virulent anxiety for a couple of days after I picked up that single Blackberry message. Why? It struck me that having a Blackberry full-time would mean there would never again be a free moment. There would be no more book-reading, idle conversation, or relaxed spacing-out to observe the world around me. It occurred to me the Blackberry could be the ultimate Whack-a-Mole game – always in-your-face, cloying; ceaselessly demanding 100 percent attention. The Blackberry is the plugged-in flagship for the hooked-up people that we are, in every moment ready to suck up any spare consciousness that becomes available.

Instead, I will continue to check my email in set-aside clumps of time, using Microsoft Outlook’s Tools option to sort out messages by people and topics. In short, focused spurts of 100 percent attention, I’ll dive in a couple times a day and blow through all my messages in clustered, encapsulated batches. It’s cleaner that way, and as I close up my laptop after each session, I will continue to have a life.

It’s Thursday morning as I finish this posting. We’re in Washington, D.C, where Linda and I have been exploring the monuments and museums, not to mention the National Archives (where we, in mutual choked-up awe, stood inches away from the root-documents of our nation: The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights). Last night, taking the train back to our Alexandria, Virginia hotel, we read a Blackberry ad, posted high up on the subway car’s wall, above the windows. It described the Blackberry as a “Freedom Fighter.” Allow me to retort: more apt is, “Freedom Sapper.” Call me a Luddite, but my spare time absolutely belongs to me as I flip through the pages of a book, or contemplate the passing world, or banter aimlessly back and forth with the person who shares her life with me.

Do you use a Blackberry? How is it with you? Is my reaction extreme and/or unfair, or just dumb?  In any case, for sure, I’ve raised hackles out there again.

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