Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Blackberry Revolution

The other day, I received a mail from a friend at 3:30 am. Nothing very important. Just a response to the usual 'Hey Wassup' email. The response was a two liner and the tag line said - 'Sent via Blackberry'. Whoa! This got me thinking about the great Blackberry Revolution.

In a previous post I had spoken about the sea change in technology in a gap of just a few years. There was a time, when mail meant ordinary post. And now,the same ordinary post has been christened 'snail mail' and technology is developing at a feverish pace for getting the world closer. And now, the whole buzzword called 'collaboration' is almost reaching a crescendo, with people being forever accessible on cellphones and email. And I mean forever, thanks to the Blackberry revolution! There was a time, when people's contact numbers were their desk numbers at work and only the closest quarters were provided the sacrosanct home numbers. One wasn't supposed to call up another's home, unless it was a 'Mayday situation'. And now, thanks to the cellphone, all sense of decency in terms of not disturbing someone at 1 am at night has gone to the dogs! One receives messages and emails at the dinner table, and these tasks are 'immediate actionables'. Thank God for spoons since immediate action means an immediate jab on the text editor of the cell phone or Blackberry. The last task of the day no longer remains listening to calm music or reading a book. The last task of the day is one last check of the email, and responses therein. But then again, that check may not be the last check, since there could be a call or a message at 2 am at night, and you could send out another response at 2:05 am, jabbing at the keys of your blackberry like a man or a woman possessed.

No doubt, technology makes life a lot easier. I remember reading an article on the i-phone's acceptance in Japan. The article described a day in the life of a certain Claude, and how his cell phone was his true companion for everything. And no, what was written was not an exaggeration, since people do swipe cell phones at payment counters in Tokyo! Here's the excerpt that appealed to me the most and I quote -

"If the iPhone is the holy grail of hardware and software design, then Japanese cell phones are the holy grail of convergence devices. In no other part of the world will you find a phone that checks email, trade stocks, watch TV, act as a charge card, plays music, interface with other phones, act as portable computer, book tickets, 3+ megapixel cameras, unlock doors, remotely control other devices, GPS navigation, mobile shopping, bar code and fingerprint scanners, push to talk with multiple people, video chatting and conferencing, and of course . . . cell phone.

I spoke to my Japanese friend and asked him what he thought about the iPhone. Most people in America love it. Most of the press are enamored. To preface, Claude is a 27y.o. Japanese male I met in my college days. He lives right outside Tokyo working as a textile designer. He thinks the iPhone is super sexy. To him, it doesn't look like any other phone out there. He loves how slim it is and is completely smitten with the multi-touch interface, but when asked if he'd give up his Sharp branded phone; he says no.

Claude's typical day starts with him checking his email on his phone. He gets all his daily tasks and calendaring events this way. He then syncs it with his computer. He pays for the subway by placing the phone on a kiosk granting him access past the gates. The commute is spent watching TV on his phone by rotating the screen. A small antenna extends up and catches the wireless digital TV signals (something we will never have here in America). About 45 minutes later, he's in Tokyo and heads to a vending machine to buy fresh fruit and water. He places the phone up against a pad. The vending machine reads his bank information which is tied into his phone. He then places his thumb on the phone's tiny thumbprint reader to verify his identity. As he makes his way to the office, he waves the phone near the door handle to unlock it. During a 10 minute break, he's flips thru a magazine and sees something he wants to buy. The item has a tiny stamp size barcode pictogram next to it. He scans the pictogram with his phone. A receipt and shipping confirmation hits his email minutes later. As the day ends, he syncs with his work computer and goes grocery shopping paying for items with his phone. Before heading home, he heads to a bar his friend has invited him too. He uses the phone to give him step-by-step directions. The day is finally over and his phone's battery is nearing the end of its life. He plugs it in and goes about the rest of the evening relaxing before bed"

Sounds nice? Well, it would be, if technology managed to just be an assistant. But in today's world of the 'forever busy' individuals, sending emails in the dead of the night just seems sooooo 'kewl' that people literally end up being servile dependents of technology. Slavish maybe! It looks cool, it looks busy, it looks important, but it is addictive! A friend of mine once complained how her husband didn't find time to talk to her at home, and so, she hijacked him to a coffee shop, only to find him busy punching deals into his Blackberry in response to a continuous Bloomberg feed! She, being at her wits' end later remarked that her father who had no jazzy gadgets to help him was equally, if not more accomplished in life and so, all these cranky objects are just a reason to be inefficient and disorganized. Wow! This got me thinking. Do we really need to get so attached to technology? Does our or for that matter any line of work truly warrant emails and messages at 2 am at night? That too when the recipients are in my own time zone? Is this addiction the reason why all advertisements for vacations scream 'Reclaim your life' or 'Freedom from cellphones' or 'Break Free'? Hmm... So, late tonight, after a day of continuous emails, calls and messages, at work, I was finally enjoying a cup of coffee and yet again, the phone began to ring. And this time, I decided to act differently.... Coffee with music - a deadly combination and indeed one of the biggest advantages of having your favorite song as your cell phone's ringtone!

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