One night last week, I got the best sleep I have had in months. When I rose, I couldn’t figure out why. Instinctively, before brushing my teeth, showering, waking my daughter for school, I reached for my BlackBerry, as I do every morning. It wasn’t working.
Aha, that’s the secret, thought the part of me that hates the device. Oh no, said the workaholic voice of reason, what if I missed an important, career-defining email?
This week, the biggest BlackBerry event of the year unfolded in Florida, filled with information-technology administrators, gadget geeks and so-called Crackberries (lingo for BlackBerry addicts) who haven’t been able to get enough of wireless mobile technology. The thought of such a conference gives me great pause: There are actually people—3,500 of them, apparently—that celebrate the absolute loss of freedom, the leash to the office, the finger-aching, poor eyesight-inducing, incessantly vibrating and ringing and red-flashing beast called a BlackBerry that now runs our lives.
The gadget invaded India in October 2005, but many people I talked to this week likened their BlackBerry to malls and Marutis, packaged naan and air conditioning: They couldn’t imagine life before. When I told them how often I want to throw the thing out of the window, they assured me that feeling will soon go away and I will learn to embrace it (kind of how I felt with a screaming newborn.)
A BlackBerry user for 18 months, among India’s early converts, B.A.N. Sharma, vice-president of business transformation practice at GAVS Information Services Pvt. Ltd in Chennai, assured me he went through a “life cycle” with his device, initially quite attached and obsessed—then resentful. Finally, he’s learned how to use the BlackBerry as a tool to better balance work and family, instead of intruding on them.
“I don’t bring it into my bedroom,” he said. “After 10, I’ll leave it in my living room until morning. If it’s really critical, they’ll reach me.”
Like Sharma, a part of my job requires me to deal with the US regularly (whose doesn’t, these days). On an average, my BlackBerry buzzes half a dozen times between 10pm and 8am. When I first took on this role, BlackBerry a part of the package, I actually used to wake up to respond or request what I needed, fearful that it would be too late by my morning, their night. A few months ago, I found a wonderful ally in Hong Kong—2 ½ hours ahead—who I can turn to in a real pinch. She has made a big difference (although I suppose I am intruding on her time, so I keep the SOSs rare).
Debasish Barneji, too, deals with countries all over the place as a product manager in Bangalore. “They respect your work-life balance,” he says of clients. “But sometimes, you are in a hurry to solve something, so you respond to them to close the issue. Sometimes I don’t respond because then it goes on and on.”
Then come the emails we don’t want to get, no matter what time of day. By these, I mean the stinkers from the bosses and colleagues asking why something went the way it did. Received in the morning, it ruins my whole day. Received at night, I lose my appetite for dinner and become irritable with my family. Sometimes, I find myself looking down in a pose known as “BlackBerry prayer”. It’s an apt description, as I am usually asking God to make tomorrow a better day.
In the safety of my office, I expect the ping telling me an email has arrived. At home, at a restaurant, at a bar, somehow it reminds me that work and responsibility are never far away, and my time with others feels overshadowed. My friend Priya tells me I need to better separate my selves.
For people with a love-hate relationship with their BlackBerrys, Kevin J. Michaluk founded CrackBerry.com, a site filled with message boards on technical usage and advice on the balance. For example, he tells me he just leaves the BlackBerry in his car before heading into a restaurant.
“Ignorance is bliss,” he said in an email interview from the conference in Florida. “The majority of BlackBerry users should be able to spend 20 minutes away without the world ending.”
Twenty minutes? But what if I’m really needed? Aren’t I?
That’s the thing about a BlackBerry, I’ve learned. Besides convenience, it gives us a feeling of importance, of being vital to the DNA and decision-making of our organizations. Consider the signature tag: “Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld.” Ingenious marketing for both Canadian maker Research in Motion Ltd—and the sender’s ego.
As I concluded writing this week—at 2:13am—my BlackBerry buzzed with an email from the US asking about a company I profiled long ago. I sent my response and then got this: “Thank you for your quick reply. Impressive.”
I smiled. A sign of the next cycle? Could balance be on the horizon?
I turned off the messenger, and went to sleep.
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