It is amusingly ironic that a gadget designed to keep people ‘connected’ is in fact having the opposite effect. For many, the compulsive checking of emails and internet browsing that BlackBerry devices afford are ‘disconnecting’ users from family and friends.
Distracted home life, vacations where the spouse plays second fiddle: BlackBerries are very possibly the newest type of social vice. And it is, experts warn, a serious medical condition. So much so that treatment used to wean heavy users from their neurotic habit (who often cannot go more than a few minutes without checking their email) is similar to that of alcohol or drug addiction.
The BlackBerry has earned itself a nickname in honour of this formidable reputation: the ‘CrackBerry’, because its addictive qualities resemble those of crack cocaine. A fraught businessman can sit in Starbucks and juggle emails, internet browsing and cell phone calls on a single handheld device. While also feeding his caffeine addiction. It is convenient, efficient and saves time.
It is also, like the iPod, extremely iconic – the latest must-have fashion accessory with the added bonus of working extremely well. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has one. As do footballer Freddie Ljungberg and easyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou.
But when a CrackBerry addict is caught without their BlackBerry, withdrawal symptoms appear: depression, anxiety, craving. A study, carried out by New Jersey’s Rutgers University School, claims that the BlackBerry is largely accountable for the recent increase in email and internet addiction, especially in the United States, which can be very harmful to mental health. ‘Addicts’ may require psychiatric care, much like that given to drug abusers.
But the question remains: addiction or necessity? Many over-worked, addicted users would argue that their employer is to blame; pressures of the job are why they check their email before even getting out of bed in the morning. Indeed, it is necessary to stay connected.
But when thumbs are working overtime in restaurants or bars during a sociable evening out, surely the only diagnosis is addiction? Undivided attention to those around them goes out the window; they are hopelessly lost without it.
Perhaps BlackBerries should come with a health warning. Sore thumbs, a distracted look, social outcast: the telltale signs of a BlackBerry addict don’t look good. If this accurately depicts you, it is time to put the gadget down.