BlackBerry Abuse, Coast to Coast

Here in Washington, we call them "crackberries." People are addicted to their BlackBerry handhelds, which get e-mail and text messages — and serve as cell phones. And across the country in Los Angeles, where commentator Bill Langworthy lives, it seems that they are no less addictive.

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Here in Washington, we call them CrackBerrys. People are addicted to their handhelds that get e-mail and text messages and serve as cell phones. And across the country in Los Angeles, where commentator Bill Langworthy lives, it seems that they are no less addictive.


When I returned to work after a yearlong hiatus, no one in the office could look me in the eye. They were all too busy staring at their BlackBerrys. My first day back, I was meeting with my boss when a horrible alarmlike noise interrupted me. My boss jumped for his BlackBerry but urged me to keep speaking. He then adopted a pose I got to know well--shoulders hunched, mouth ajar, eyes glazed and thumbs bobbing. While I spoke, he emitted a series of grunts to pretend like he was listening.

BlackBerrys were also present at meetings, where the table was lined with a dozen handhelds armed to go off the moment someone threatened to complete a sentence. They were on the other end of conference calls, where I could hear someone grunting and pretending to listen 3,000 miles away. I even saw a man take his to the urinal, where he BlackBerryed with one hand. But the scariest moment came when a woman walking and BlackBerrying wandered into traffic. A car sped towards her, but she was deaf to her friend's warnings. I wanted to shout, `She can't hear you; you're only talking. Quick, somebody, send her a text.'

Reports of BlackBerry abuse are popping up everywhere. A graduate of Columbia's architecture program complained his professor tapped away while students presented their final projects. My sister caught her husband e-mailing under the table during her Valentine's Day dinner. And I recently attended a wedding where the bride wrote a note on the program reminding guests to please turn off their BlackBerrys.

I fear I sound like an old man baffled by answering machine and VCR technology, but I promise that's not me. I'm the guy who has to have the newest iPod, feels naked without a cell phone, checks his e-mail 80 times a day and grew up with MTV. In fact, the job I'm describing is working for MTV, so I didn't go in there expecting long attention spans.

I understand the need to be more efficient; I just feel the death of one-on-one interaction is too high a price to pay. It is now considered a waste of time to focus your attention on a single person. People fail to realize that being rude to several people once does not qualify as multitasking.

A young co-worker possessed a dizzying capacity for juggling devices, simultaneously conducting conversation on--and this is no exaggeration--a BlackBerry, a Sidekick, a cell phone and two computers running separate e-mail accounts. I had exactly one discussion with her the entire time we worked together. It lasted about 45 seconds, or the length of an elevator ride. She turned out to be interesting, funny and engaging until the elevator doors opened. Then her coverage resumed and she hopped right back on her BlackBerry.

SIEGEL: Bill Langworthy lives in Los Angeles.


SIEGEL: I'm Robert Siegel. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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