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‘CrackBerry’ Users Have Moved On. Is BlackBerry Dead?

Filed by KOSU News in Business.
September 27, 2013

This may be premature – but it is best to think of this post as an obituary for the BlackBerry.

A phone struck down seemingly in its prime.

Gone so soon.

BB we’ll miss you.

Over the course of its existence BlackBerry sold smartphones to more than 200 million people. It became ubiquitous in places like Indonesia but it began with an invasion of Wall Street and Washington.

“In 2005 and 2006 it just hit Wall Street like a tsunami,” explains Heidi Moore from her desk in a newsroom in New York. “Everyone had one, out of nowhere, it just appeared. It was like being part of a cult.”

Moore has covered Wall Street for more than a decade — first at The Wall Street Journal – then public radio show Marketplace – and now The Guardian.

“You’d go into meetings, just casual meetings, and the table would be covered with BlackBerries because some people had two because they were just that important,” she says.”

Moore says that owning a BlackBerry, having it in your hand at a bar, signaled you were part of the tribe. Paying attention to it at a cocktail party or a meeting let everyone know you had more important things to do.

The BlackBerry seemed tailor made for the ethos of Wall Street. It made timid men mean.

“Here’s the thing,” Moore says. “Wall Street loves threats. It is really what kind of greases the wheels of commerce. So if you can level a threat without having to look at someone’s face fall, that is probably the ideal situation.”

A lot it is much easier to pretend your are tough if you don’t have to look anyone in the eye.

Moore agrees. “That’s right no one can see the fear in your face as you are making the threat.”

In those early days it was easy to look at that guy checking his BlackBerry ostentatiously and write him off: he’s a banker, a lawyer, a journalist, a jerk. But then, the devices started invading our homes, our dinner table, our bedrooms.

It turned out the addiction, the rudeness, the obsession with a smartphone as a cultural signifier of status was lurking in us all.

Today it’s not just CEOs and Washington lawyers checking smartphones obsessively. And it’s not just investment bankers making threats. It’s Junior high-school kids and soccer moms. The BlackBerry offered us an early glimpse of the ugliness in us all.

I met Lisa Cooper Carlson and David Henig waiting in line for coffee in Palo Alto.

“The smartphone now, it’s next to the bed, and we’re talking about how sad it is that the morning ritual is now to roll over and immediately see what came in overnight,” Carlson says, turning to Henig. “Do you do that? “

Both Henig and Carlson are both iPhone users now — but they trace the roots of this kind of familial dysfunction to the BlackBerry.

“I was never a BlackBerry user,” Henig says. “My wife, who’s a physician, did use a BlackBerry all the time. And she was always the under the table checking the e-mail kind of thing. And you always knew because.”

Henig pauses. Glances at my microphone — looks momentarily aghast, then continues,” I really shouldn’t say much more.”

So I ask, delicately, ‘Did it cause marital strife?”

“No!” He insists. “It never caused marital strife.” Then Henig bursts out laughing. “That’s my story. I’m sticking with it.”

There are actually people who make a living studying this stuff.

Michael Lee Wesch, a digital anthropologist, insists BlackBerry’s contribution to the world isn’t all bad. Like any transformational figure Wesch says the greatest impacts of the Blackberry may have been misunderstood in its own time.

When Wesh talks to his students about the mobile and digital revolution we are living through, he likes to say that there is something in the air.

“There are just over three billion people connecting and collaborating and what’s in the air are the digital artifacts of all off that,” Wesch says.

Anyone with a connected device can tap into the world’s store information. Anyone who can type or take a picture can now add to a global debate. And BlackBerry helped get it all started. For millions of people in the developing world a BlackBerry was the way they first experienced the Internet.

BlackBerry may still live on as a smaller private company but its era is ending

The BlackBerry.

If you don’t survive, may you rest in peace. You forever blurred the lines between work and home.

You helped usher us into an age where billions of human beings carry computers in their pockets, and children, parents, and spouses have to compete with tiny screens for the affection of their loved ones. [Copyright 2013 NPR]

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