There has been extensive coverage of Blackberry addiction in the wake of last week's service outage, but one of the more insightful pieces was Matt Richtel's piece in today's NY Times, Tethered; It Don’t Mean a Thing if You Ain’t Got That Ping. It offers some notable quotations from academics, such as this from
James E. Katz, Director of the Center for Mobile Communications Studies at Rutgers University:
Look at a lot of the communication — it’s idiotic in terms of substance, but it’s vital in terms of meaning...It’s random reinforcement, [Participation gives people a sense of belonging, one traceable to the atavistic desire to congregate and cooperate for safety and survival. In addition, the constant checking is an exercise in optimism, like being an explorer or a gambler. Eternal hope delivered in tiny bits while you’re on the go.The fact that you don’t know when important news will come] means you will quickly engage in obsessive compulsive behavior.
And this, from John Ratey, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who has been using the term "acquired attention deficit disorder" to describe the condition of people who are accustomed to a constant stream of digital stimulation and feel bored in the absence of it:
I liken it to a drug. Drug addicts don’t think; they just start moving. Like moving for your BlackBerry.
I wonder how long it will take people to get over it. Back when I was at Lotus, my group built a product to deliver email to mobile phones. It was useful for deleting spam while riding the Hertz bus at the airport, but with the volume of email I get now I can't imagine wanting to be interrupted every time a new message comes in. I do often bring my laptop to meetings and do keep an eye on email, but can live without it while I go to lunch or hang out with family and friends. On the other hand, some businesses are so competitive that a moments inattention can have unfortunate results. I was needling a friend of mine about his Blackberry addiction and he recounted how he lost his job at a particularly cutthroat financial services company when a reorg took place while he was on a business trip. He is convinced to this day that things would have turned out differently if he had gotten the news in real time. Perhaps he's right, but I'd like to think some of this technology we are inventing would make people's live more fulfilling instead of more anxiety-ridden.