Red alert: are you a Blackberry addict?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 March, 2009, 12:00am

There is a small flashing light at the top, right corner of my Blackberry. This light pretty much rules my life. If it is flashing green, that means no new e-mail, SMS or missed calls.

Red, on the other hand, is a call to action. It means a new e-mail has come in or a phone call is coming. Much the same way as Pavlov's dogs began to salivate when the bell rang, my own body physically reacts to the red light.

It could mean anything. It could be a new client offering me a great opportunity. It could be my boss unhappy about some decision I have made. It could even be something completely trivial like an offer to play tennis or go see a movie.

Whatever it is, I have to know immediately. Like a smoker who sees an open packet of cigarettes, when that little red light comes on I am powerless to stop myself from picking up my Blackberry, typing in my password and surfing directly to the new message.

This physiological addiction has certain social consequences. Not only do I need to see what the new message is when the light starts flashing, I also can't stand not knowing whether the light is red or green for more than a few minutes before I need to have a look.

This means that quite often, during parties or at dinner, I will unconsciously take my Blackberry out to check what colour the light is. When I do it during a conversation, people seem to take offence.

And I am, of course, not alone. This affliction can be widely seen in airport lounges, in elevators and in practically every restaurant in Central at lunchtime. People across the world are unable to cope with the uncertainty of not checking their Blackberrys every 30 seconds.

Now this might seem trivial, but this is an extremely addictive device, and it comes with no warning label whatsoever. A packet of cigarettes is likely to say something on the front like: 'Warning: Nicotine is Addictive.' There's nothing like that on the Blackberry box. And it is a dangerous device.

I don't mean the obvious danger of walking into oncoming traffic, or getting beaten up by someone you bumped into while typing an e-mail. There is an even greater risk.

My friend Duncan, for example, gladly accepted the offer of a Blackberry when his employer decided to buy the device.

Before long he was a classic case: glancing at his Blackberry at the movies, taking it out of his pocket during conversations and having difficulty getting through an entire dinner without checking to see if he had received any e-mails.

As any sensible woman would do, his wife started pointing out to him that he seemed to be more interested in his Blackberry than her.

'Absolutely not,' he said. 'I don't need to keep looking at it. I could stop at any time.' Which, of course, he didn't.

Instead of escalating the issue into an argument, his wife took a more sensible approach. The next time he looked at his Blackberry, instead of saying: 'Can you put that thing away,' she said, 'So what was that e-mail about?'

The answer was almost always: 'Some pointless notification from IT' or 'An invitation to a conference I'll never go to' or 'Something I have to sort out when I'm in the office tomorrow.'

It didn't take her long to realise that her husband rarely received an e-mail that actually required his immediate attention and so he really didn't need to be checking quite so often. She resolved to help him kick the habit.

This was easy: she simply hid his Blackberry on the weekends. Just for an hour or two at first, but then for longer and longer periods. Like all addicts, he suffered withdrawal for the first few weeks but gradually had begun to see the benefits. After a couple of months, he had almost recovered and was able to enjoy not reading his e-mails all the time.

And this is where his problem began. It turns out that not checking your Blackberry is about as dangerous as checking it.

You see, the people checking their Blackberry every minute of the day tend to assume everybody else is, too. And they're usually right. So when Duncan's boss wanted to invite him to a Monday morning meeting to discuss redundancies, he sent him an e-mail and expected him to read it, even though he sent it late on Friday. But Duncan was not reading his e-mails that weekend and he only realised that there was an important meeting after it was over. And I don't have to tell you the consequences of not turning up to a meeting about redundancies, even if you didn't know it was on.

Duncan does not have a Blackberry any more, but if he did, he would be checking it every minute.

Contact Alan Alanson at