Monday, December 18, 2006

Blackberry Cold Turkey

The most important attribute of email is the asynchronicity of the medium: The sender and the receiver do not have to be in contact at the same moment. This enables efficient communication. You can integrate emails into the fabric of your life. You originate a message when you want, and you reply to another's when you want.

Until the "revenge effect" occurs! How does this work? Email was invented. Then Blackberries were invented so we could be sure, when we are away from our computer, to receive emails as soon as they are sent and reply to them immediately. In fact, we feel compelled to read and respond in real time. Asynchronicity disappears.

Worse, manners disappear. We sit in meetings and, at best, try to look at our handheld screen without appearing to be distracted from the conversation. You have seen the maneuvers -- a casual glance towards the crotch where fingers are quickly at work -- a sudden excuse to go to the restroom -- a coughing fit so the person can turn away from the table and check the Blackberry. At worst, we just put the device on the conference table in front of our face and divest from the conference.

Worse still, relationships disappear. A couple sits side by side at an airport, each reading and writing email on their two machines. A child impatiently waits to talk to a parent while the driver hurriedly answers an email while stopped at a red light.

I write from experience. I was a "Crackberry" addict. As I look back and see how often I was rude or inattentive, I am embarrassed. As I look back and see how often I responded in haste to an email in the midst of other activities, I am appalled.

But, I have given it up. The impetus was when Cingular wrote in November to tell me that my bare bones Wireless Mobitex data service was going to be discontinued, but that I could "upgrade" to one with a higher price with more functionality, if I also bought a new Blackberry or Treo. I had until December 31 to make the switch: "All Mobitex devices on your account will be unable to send or receive messages after that date."

I read that sentence and had quite a different reaction from that hoped for by the Cingular marketing department. Gee, if service will end on December 31, why wait? Let's end it sooner. So, I did. I called that 800-number and shut 'er down that very day. Blackberry cold turkey.

I have since discovered marvelous things. The sun rises in the morning and sets at night. Airport lounges are great places to visit with friends or read a book. Red lights are an excellent excuse to stop driving, look around, and see what's happening on the streetscape. People in meetings pay more attention to you if you pay more attention to them. The email that arrived three hours ago is still relevant -- or better yet, no longer matters!


Anonymous said...

I hope your Blackberry Revolution inspires other not-so-closeted addicts to do the same.

Word has it that Galileo did some of his best thinking at red lights.


Anonymous said...

Oh Paul, you are priceless!! The American Cancer Society has the annual Great American Smokeout--perhaps we could have a similiar Blackberry free day. I'm not as brave as you, but have started to leave it at home on weekends....what an example you set!

Anonymous said...

Patent that cure!

Anonymous said...

Never wanted one!!!

Thanks for this confirmation.

A Doctor.

Anonymous said...

I am too addicted to give it up. Is there a methodone for Crackberries?

Anonymous said...

I had no idea you were such a Luddite. This is almost unpatriotic. If we turn off our Blackberrys, the terrorists win.

Anonymous said...

Ohmygosh, I didn't even know about this story in the Wall Street Journal! (Excerpts below.)

BlackBerry Orphans
The growing use of email gadgets is spawning a generation of resentful children. A look at furtive thumb-typers, the signs of compulsive use and how kids are fighting back.
December 8, 2006; Page W1

There is a new member of the family, and, like all new siblings, this one is getting a disproportionate amount of attention, resulting in jealousy, tantrums, even trips to the therapist.

It's the BlackBerry.

As hand-held email devices proliferate, they are having an unexpected impact on family dynamics: Parents and their children are swapping roles. Like a bunch of teenagers, some parents are routinely lying to their kids, sneaking around the house to covertly check their emails and disobeying house rules established to minimize compulsive typing. The refusal of parents to follow a few simple rules is pushing some children to the brink. They are fearful that parents will be distracted by emails while driving, concerned about Mom and Dad's shortening attention spans and exasperated by their parents' obsession with their gadgets. Bob Ledbetter III, a third-grader in Rome, Ga., says he tries to tell his father to put the BlackBerry down, but can't even get his attention. "Sometimes I think he's deaf," says the 9-year-old.

...In Austin, Texas, Hohlt Pecore, 7, and his sister, Elsa, 4, have complicated relationships with their mother's BlackBerry. "I feel very annoyed," says Hohlt. "She's always concentrating on that blasted thing." (Hohlt says he picked up the word "blasted" from the film "Pirates of the Caribbean.")

Elsa has hidden the BlackBerry on occasion -- Hohlt says she tried to flush it down the toilet last year. Their mother, Elizabeth Pecore, who co-owns a specialty grocery store, denies the incident. But Elsa also seems to recognize that it brings her mom comfort, not unlike a pacifier or security blanket. Recently, seeing her mom slumped on the couch after work, Elsa fished the BlackBerry from her mother's purse and brought it to her. "Mommy," she asked, "will this make you feel better?"

Emma Colonna wishes her parents would behave, at least when they're out in public. The ninth-grade student in Port Washington, N.Y., says she has caught her parents typing emails on their Treos during her eighth-grade awards ceremony, at dinner and in darkened movie theaters. "During my dance recital, I'm 99% sure they were emailing except while I was on stage," she says. "I think that's kind of rude."

Emma, 14, also identifies with adults who wish their kids spent less time playing videogames. "At my student orientation for high school, my mom was playing solitaire," she says. "She has a bad attention span." Her mother, Barbara Chang, the chief executive of a nonprofit group, says, "It's become this crutch."

Safety is another issue. Will Singletary, a 9-year-old in Atlanta, doesn't approve of his dad's proclivity for typing while driving. "It makes me worried he's going to crash," he says. "He only looks up a few times." His dad, private banker Ross Singletary, calls it "a legit concern." He adds: "Some emails are important enough to look at en route."

Some mental-health professionals report that the intrusion of mobile email gadgets and wireless technology into family life is a growing topic of discussion in therapy....

Write to Katherine Rosman at

Anonymous said...

Is that WSJ article supposed to be humorous? It's actually really disturbing.

Red lights are an excellent excuse to stop driving...

Um, Paul, if your Blackberry was keeping you from stopping at red lights? It's probably a really good thing you got rid of it.

Anonymous said...

This is Boston, where traffic signals are advisory, not mandatory.

Anonymous said...

Re red lights: I think Paul's point was that he DOES stop at red lights, and now when he does, he looks around, instead of responding to the CrackBerry.

I was actually saddened by the WSJ piece. I was a deep CompuServe addict 15 years ago, before AOL existed. I did a lot of user-to-user support and helped start several user communities there, long before most people had heard of "http:" (which CompuServe didn't use anyway, back then).

I recall, late one night, posting a 3 a.m. note, a couple of hours after I'd wanted to hit the hay. Every time I went to sign off, the computer would beep saying another message had come in. My post that night said "I can't get this needle out of my arm!"

What saddens me is that I also recall the many times my daughter came to me, wanting my attention (early grade school years), and I wouldn't give it to her because I was "doing CompuServe." I still have drawings she gave me then, expressing wanting me to get offline.

REALLY sad, the more I think about it.

As it happens, she's grown up to be one of the PC-savvier members of her generation. That I love. But I sure regret the times my actions told her she was less important.

And in that, I hear resonance with what Paul said about people enjoying having more of his attention.

Dave said...

I'd find it much easier to give my blackberry up if I didn't use it as a phone.

Anonymous said...

They still make cell phones that are only cell phones . . .

Anonymous said...


I commend your decision to give up your Blackberry. I am planning to do the same after my daughter, who is 9, read the Wall Street Journal article aloud to me, after announcing that she felt like a Blackberry orphan.

As a CEO, you have both the opportunity to set a good example, and the privilege of getting to determine the rules of your work. Many of us are tethered to our blackberries at least partly because near instantaneous response is expected in our workplaces, particularly if we've managed to negotiate flexible schedules in part by promising that we'll still be available. So, I hope now that you've gone cold turkey, you'll continue to look for ways to make work more humane for those of us who aren't CEOs.

Anonymous said...

My name is Jessica and I am ....

A few years ago, I was on a panel with Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of RIM, the evil purveyors of Blackberries. It was from Jim that I first heard the term "crackberry." Well, there were only three of us on the panel with about 50 people in the audience. For, say, 95% of the hour, Jim's head was down and he was thumbing away. Every now and then, it was up periscope and he'd say something to the room, then return to the busy-ness in his lap. You'd think it would have been enough to scare me off. Instead I bought one.

My name is Jessica and I am ashamed, abashed, and mortified by my weak spirit. Wait, I hear something ringing...

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous,

No one at our place is required to have Blackberry, although people who are on call are required to have pagers. I think people get Blackberries because they think it enhances their job status.

Dear Jessica,

I feel deeply for you. Our support group meets on Thursday night at a to-be-announced cafe in Cambridge. Be in Harvard Square at 7:30 and we will email you to give details . . .

Anonymous said...

Paul's been Tailranked.

Those of you who are blog-wise will know the significance of that. For those who aren't, here's the deal: When your blog article reaches a certain level of visibility and coolness in the blogosphere, it gets listed on Tailrank, which is a blog of blogs.

In the first few hours of this morning, this item got picked up by a Blackberry blog, and then by another one, and off we went.

Mind you, Tailrank has nothing to do with quality of health care. It's just cool in the world of blogging.

But people's response means this has touched a nerve, enough to end up on the blog that says "We track the hottest news on the blogosphere."

So, what is the essence of a great blog, huh? For one thing it has something to say. For another, now and then it touches something. Beyond that, I dunno...

Anonymous said...

Paul, virtual attendance will be acceptable given the purpose, yes?

And would that we all be Tailranked.

(Anon, let's keep our eyes on Technorati).

Anonymous said...

So that's what you look like!

Anonymous said...

Paul, Your blackberry article was right on and inspiring. But it leads me to wonder - after months of reading your blog, are you just switching dependencies? How much of your "free" time will go from the crackberry to the blog? At least the blog shouldn't interfere with your driving...

Anonymous said...

Fairly ironic that when I went to the Tailrank link "off we went", the banner ad adjacent to Paul's blog listing was in fact for a T-Mobile Blackberry.

Anonymous said...

I must say I agree with what you did with your blackberry. I'm not quite ready to go "cold-turkey" but I never take it into a meeting or restaurant or attempt to answer at a stop light, so perhaps there's still hope for me. Time will were smart, however, to discover what you did in time.

I've dropped several Treos in water and have stepped on one, so the next time one goes missing, it will stay missing.

Anonymous said...

I'm sending this from my berry, on the pike, ignoring my hubby, who is listening to NPR. I'm horrible.

Anonymous said...

> the banner ad adjacent to Paul's blog listing
> was in fact for a T-Mobile Blackberry.

What a hoot ... at my day job I've gotten involved in the form of Internet marketing called "content network ads," where some computer looks at what's on a web page and blindly pulls a supposedly relevant ad out of its arsenal and flings it at us. The advertiser pays for every time its ad is chosen.

So in this case, T-Mobile paid to display a Blackberry ad on a web page that discusses ditching your Blackberry!


Anonymous said...

Have I inadvertantly tapped into a movement, er, lack of a movement? Here is an interesting post on

Escape from Blackberry

Much of Enterprise 2.0 is about asynchronous communication. Blog, wikis, social bookmarking, et al provide common spaces to create, share, and archive information. RSS lets us decide what we get. The break through is transparency but one that make things more efficient and less of a burden. Here is a great story on what happens when asynchronous tools become real time. I think things could become overwhelming if everyone felt the need to be connected to all these great new tools real time, all the time. We might lose the control that these new tools give us over communication.

Paul Levy is the CEO of large Boston hospital and he writes the blog, Running a Hospital. Jessica Lipnack pointed me to his post, Blackberry Cold Turkey. Here he describes his liberation for his Blackberry. I agree so much with what he says.

Paul writes about the bad effects of having constant access to your email when you are away form your computer, “manners disappear. We sit in meetings and, at best, try to look at our handheld screen without appearing to be distracted from the conversation. You have seen the maneuvers — a casual glance towards the crotch where fingers are quickly at work — a sudden excuse to go to the restroom — a coughing fit so the person can turn away from the table and check the Blackberry. At worst, we just put the device on the conference table in front of our face and divest from the conference. Worse still, relationships disappear. A couple sits side by side at an airport, each reading and writing email on their two machines. A child impatiently waits to talk to a parent while the driver hurriedly answers an email while stopped at a red light.”

With RSS it could be worse as we could get updated through a mobile device on blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, as well as email. This is why I disliked IM and why I do not have a Blackberry. But I may be an extreme case. I even resisted cell phones for a while and usually leave mine off, except by prior arrangement with someone who needs to reach me. Now that I am no longer in a large consulting company, I do not have IM and I do not give out my cell phone number for business except on rare occasions. There are places for real time communication and there are times for asynchronous communication. We need to have our personal spaces and we need to be able to focus on what is happening right in front of us. Kudos to Paul.

Anonymous said...

You are no luddite, you are a NEO-LUDDITE. That is -- someone who knows all the ways to connect and communicate and actively chooses only one way to communicate at a time and sometimes avoids all of them all together.

You are on the leading edge of a movement away from what I call, "continuous partial attention," and toward what I call, "uni-focus."

When being part of the "me and everyone else network" was valued most highly, Blackberries and cell phones, in always-on mode, enabled continuous partial attention. We could connect 24/7, and the motivation driving us was, "I don't want to miss anything."

In this noisy world, our desire for connection 24/7, is giving way to a desire for protection from the noise and for real "engagement." William James, the psychologist who came up with the most used definition of attention, told us that attention is both what we choose to focus on and what we choose NOT to focus on.

Powerful technologies can make us feel powerless... until we find the OFF switch.

Welcome to "quality of life." I write about all this....

Anonymous said...

You know, my first reaction to Roman's post was "Give it a rest, bro." But then I read Linda's post and recalled my early experience with gadgets (as a hotshot tech troubleshooter I used mobile phones when they weighed 12 pounds and came in a bag), and I'm seeing this whole thing in a new way.

I think Linda hit the nail on the head with her observation that we "don't want to miss anything," and Roman's got a point about just using the stuff responsibly. The WSJ column about "CrackBerry orphans" puts an all-too-painful point on it: when I was addicted to the "online 24/7" life, I was missing something big: the people around me, who were in turn missing me. (They said so, and I didn't listen.)

In that light, BlackBerry (and email and cell phones and more gadgets yet to be invented) show up differently: they make something new become possible, for which we haven't yet developed rules of conduct.

So now the question comes squarely back into our laps: what's important in your life? What are you willing to drop everything for?

Anonymous said...

What happened to personal responsibility to monitor behaviors and priorities. There will always be a temptation be it food, drugs, drink, gambling or technology we all need to be self reflective and do a benefit/risk analysis to determine if we have a problem and then make decisions accordingly.

There are good foods, perscription drugs, social drinking, church bingo and electronic enhancements for work. And there are abuses of all of the above.

As a professional with many masters to serve, I appreciate that I can take my child to gymnastics and spend a useful hour doing some work while they are in class and be there to pick up my child ( BB turned off) as we drive home talking about our day.

Kudos to you for making a decision to take back your time and give your attention to things that you may have inadvertently neglected in favor of your BB. Cingular might have been you impetus but you have given others the impetus to evaluate their own use.

Bottom line we all need to take responsibility for how we set priorities and conduct our interactions - it is not as simple as throwing away your BB.

As always, you raise thought provoking issues and promote interesting dialogue. Thx.

Anonymous said...


Many thanks for your contribution to a trend that only is at the beginning of what I would call 'total global communication'. I won't elaborate on this concept (you get the idea I guess), but just want to make a few observations and make clear that 'Ditching your BB' is not the solution to make life 'better'.

For your information, I am a male, live in Europe and are a heavy BB user ever since it was introduced here 5 years ago (in numbers: sending some 500 messages a month, reading some 2000 on my BB).

Result: I am still married, my thumbs still work fine and I have increased my productivity so much that, despite a busy business life, still have time for friends, family and leisure. In bullets:

- 'Too' is never good. Wether it is a BB, cellphone, food, talk, etc.
- What is 'better': Staying late at the office OR be at home and check an occasional message?
- What is better: Be home, stay at your PC all nite OR spend the evening with the kids and checking an occasional message?
- What is better: Look around and chat with strangers at the airport OR handle your email there and have mroe time for your familiy when back home?
- What is better: Stay late in the office OR go to the gym and handle a few messages in between exercises?
- Don't be like those people that claimed that Steam Trains would make cows produce sour milk
- Ignore people that read BB's during the meeting. Either cancel the meeting or be so interesting that they feel they have to listen
- Instead of switching the device off, did you know there is a 'quiet' profile so you stay connected without being interupted?
- Be aware that the new youngsters are texting on their cell phone daily and using IM like we were writing letters. Times change...
- New technology allows me to take an instant day off with child and family when I feel like it without disturbing the business or having to arrange so many backups that would cause more stress than a vacation would give you...
- Last but not least (very opinionated, but being male I am allowed ;-): For the first time in history, these new mobile technologies helps men to 'multi-task' and might give them more respect for what women have been doing for ages...

Don't get me wrong. I believe in a decent, peaceful and polite society. Abandoning one piece of technology will not help achieving this. Education, doing 'good' and respect for other opinions is IMHO.

Greetings - enjoy your (mobile) life in the best possible way!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Just spent about 1/2 hour reading all these comments! Maybe we have too much time on our hands? Or are we creating community? Ultimately, the tool (read Blackberry) is never the problem, but the user (!). Though it's hard for a user to stay off the stuff when you're surrounded by users! Me, I had to ask a friend (nice soothing voice) how to find blog pages -- is it possible to surf the blogs???

Not to mention the classiness of all this. Yet interesting to see the affirmation that addiction runs through all classes.

atarimaster said...

That was great, but I still don't feel like giving up my Blackberry
....keeping in touch with my friends is sooooooooooooo much more fun than high school......btw i'm currently 16 and have had blackberry devices for 3 years now

Anonymous said...

You think BBs (and BB users) are a problem? There was a time when I would meet somebody shuffling along the street, muttering or yelling with a blank expression, and know he'd missed his medication, or taken too much in its liquid form. It's no longer true.
Now, he (and it's usually "he") is talking into a Bluetooth headset.
Interestingly, the expression's the same - certainly not looking around, but walking along, often gesturing wildly - and the only thing that gives you the clue is the object screwed to the side of his head like something out of a Star Trek episode.
Thinks: maybe some of these guys are actually drunks or druggies who have simply legitimized their actions by wearing a cheap plastic add-on from a Two-dollar shop. We may never know...

Anonymous said...

try the iPhone, its zen like. the blackberry is no so.

Janet Karasz said...

I've kept my blackberry but I've turned off all the bells and whistles. To relate technology to life, I often imagine doing the same thing the paper way. Would we tolerate the mail room guy flying through our office every few minutes, hollering, "You've got mail!" Where in the heck would productivity go? So the bells are off and I check my e-mail a couple times a day. Though I embrace it when it helps, I don't let technology dictate my life.