Blackberry blackout leaves millions fuming

Users of RIM's iconic smartphone were cut off from internet services for three days. It's a huge blow for the embattled manufacturer – but could being cut off actually be a good thing?

For its millions of users, the Blackberry smartphone is more than a gadget: it's a lifestyle – an umbilical connection to the web and to the professional world. With a Blackberry, a person can be 'always on', always checking in with colleagues and contacts, always in touch with emails and with office gossip buzzing through the airwaves on BBM.

Users can become almost like addicts. Weddings, funerals, parties, romantic dinners – no occasion is sacred enough to prevent the devoted Blackberry owner from pulling out their device to check the latest updates. No scene is so intimate that it can't be interrupted by the frantic tapping of miniature keys. Some call the machines 'Crackberries', comparing their compulsive power to that of the notorious illegal drug.

This week, however, legions of junkies have had to do without their regular fix. Deep in the vast network of computers that runs the whole Blackberry system, something crucial snapped. Emails, internet and messaging services – everything that makes a Blackberry worth having – suddenly and disastrously stopped. Only yesterday, after three days of desperate engineering, did normal service gradually begin to recover.

For manufacturers RIM, it has been a catastrophe. Newspapers are full of stories of furious Blackberry users who have missed crucial emails or lost work. In cities around the world, suited executives have been seen desperately hunting for free wireless hotspots, muttering furiously to themselves about switching mobile phones at the earliest opportunity.

And even before the blackout, Blackberries were starting to lose their market dominance. More and more of the business types who made the Blackberry an international status symbol had been switching to iPhones and Android platforms. Meanwhile, the Blackberry's messaging service had turned out, embarrassingly, to be a big favourite with looters during the recent London riots. Industry analysts are now predicting that the brand's days may finally be numbered.

No barriers

Is that such a bad thing? Blackberries were responsible for breaking down the barriers between work and personal life in a way that nothing ever had before. They meant no one could ever be out of reach of the office or the boss. While Blackberries were temporarily down, people started to rediscover the value of a real personal life – of having proper time set aside to devote to family and friends, without a constant stream of electronic distraction.

That might be nice once in a while, say technology fans, but those days are over. If Blackberry falls, something else will take its place. In the modern world, there are no barriers between work and play, or between our offline and our digital lives. That may just be something we have to adapt to.

You Decide

  1. Is it a bad or a good thing to be constantly connected to the internet?
  2. Is it better to do many things simultaneously or to do only one thing but to give it full attention? How good a thing is multitasking?

Activities

  1. When does internet use become an addiction? When does anything become an addiction? List the warning signs.
  2. Some people argue that society needs to evolve a new set of rules of etiquette to deal with smartphones. Draw up your own rules for modern living. When should people be allowed to use Blackberries – and how?

Some People Say...

“Mobile phones have destroyed family life.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Can you really becomeaddicted to Blackberry?
It sounds extreme, but some experts think the internet can be as addictive as drugs or gambling.
How do you know when you're addicted?
The key indicator that some activity is an addiction is when a person keeps doing it even when it damages health or personal life. Obsessive use of smartphones could probably come into that category.
Is it just Blackberries?
No. One recent study used brain imaging to support a theory that people were actually falling in love with their iPhones – although many scientists are taking that result with a large pinch of salt.

Word Watch

Blackberry
Blackberry smartphones exploded onto the market in 1999, combining the functions of a phone and a personal digital assistant. The phones are known for their strong email service and their full qwerty keyboards.
Umbilical
The umbilical cord is the tube which connects mothers to newborn babies and through which babies in the womb get nourishment and oxygen.
BBM
Blackberry Messenger, an instant messaging service that is hugely popular among business types but which is also a hit with young people.
RIM
Research in Motion, a Canadian company famous for developing the Blackberry. The company's stock has plunged following the blackout.
London riots
Blackberry Messenger attracted some negative publicity this summer when it was revealed that the service had been used by young looters to coordinate violence and theft during the London riots.

Subjects

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