An Exploration of BlackBerry Culture Do you carry a BlackBerry? A Treo? What does it mean to you, how do you identify with it, and what does it say about you?
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An Exploration of BlackBerry Culture

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An Exploration of BlackBerry Culture

An Exploration of BlackBerry Culture

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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BlackBerry addicts are breathing a little easier. Last week, Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry e-mail devices, settled a patent dispute that had threatened to shut down service in the United States. Since first being sold in 1999, the BlackBerry has gained a market share of more than 70% among hand-held e-mail devices. The device itself has become known as the crack-berry among those who've become addicted to it. One of them is Ana Marie Cox, also known as Wonkette emeritus and the author, most recently, of the novel, Dog Days. She wrote about her addiction in this past Sunday's Outlook section of the Washington post, but now says she has a confession to make.

We want to hear from those of you who may be crack-berry addicts. What if there was no settlement? What if you'd done without your device? Give us a call at 800-989-8255, or message us, Ana Marie Cox is with us by phone now from New York City. It's nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. ANA MARIE COX (Author): It's good to be here.

CONAN: Before we get to your confession, let's talk about your habit. First you have to admit there is a problem. How did you get addicted to your BlackBerry?

Ms. COX: I think that, I do think there is a personality type that probably is more prone to BlackBerry addiction than others. I got a BlackBerry before the Democratic convention in 2004, and I swear that it was in order to keep in touch with my husband. That was the idea.

CONAN: Sure.

Ms. COX: Didn't work out quite that way. Partially because he's one of the rare people who's immune to the disease. He has a BlackBerry, and just can leave it on the desk and just walk away from it. I think that there's others types, and it's a particularly Washington type, I have to say, that just need that constant hit of information, need to feel like you're in control of who's being, who's in touch with you. Need to, you know, constantly be able to double check things, to, you know, have your feelers out in the world.

CONAN: Well, several years ago it was, you were somebody if you had a pager on your hip. Then of course a cell phone on a holster. And you now say that having a BlackBerry is like, you know, wearing a pin-striped suit.

Ms. COX: Well, it's, I think it's more like a power tie. I also think it's just, it's like a physical manifestation of how important you are, which in Washington is something that people take very seriously. Like, the way, it's sort of like when people wear their lanyards around their neck even when they go out to lunch you know? It's the same kind of thing. You're just advertising that you have an important job.

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. COX: I think it's also, it's amazing to me, I was at lunch on the Hill the other day and you really do just see people, in a way that I don't see in New York, being in New York for a couple of days now, just pull out their BlackBerrys or their Treos in the middle of the conversation during lunch. You know? Something they would, I cannot imagine happening in another city.

CONAN: You've also said that, yes, everybody gets it for work, but in fact, it has become an indispensable social crutch.

Ms. COX: Oh yeah, it is. I mean, Washington's a place, I mean, we all were kind of nerds in high school. I mean Washington is the only city in America run completely by nerds. And although we've, you know, learned to dress ourselves, and what not, or at least mostly learned to dress ourselves...

CONAN: Sort of. Yeah.

Ms. COX: I think that it's a crutch in that it allows you to, again this sort of goes to the control of information, you don't have to talk to people face to face, you can answer, you can all, we can all be Dick Cheney, you know? We can all dispense information as we see fit.

CONAN: From our undisclosed locations.

Ms. COX: That's right. And I think also, you know, what's really funny about it to me is the way that it's become a part of, you could say a lot of romance, ironically. But maybe romance, once you involve a BlackBerry, it's not romance anymore, maybe. But there is a lot of flirting, a lot of like, social planning, that happens. It happens among people who again, like, probably in high school couldn't get up the nerve to ask someone to dance.

CONAN: And you describe a lethal combination of BlackBerrys and alcohol.

Ms. COX: Oh, God, drunk-berrying. Yeah, no, that's bad. Very, very bad. For one thing, I think that it leaves a written record. Because when you drunk-dial someone, which some people may be familiar with, that's another kind of high schoolish, collegeish thing to do, although people still do it who should know better. You, hopefully, that just disappears into the ether, right? That message just goes nowhere.

CONAN: Unless you're calling an al-Qaida operative overseas.

Ms. COX: Right. Right. Unless, I guess that, you're right. The government may have a record of it there. But, if you drunk-berry someone, you know, they can send that to anyone. That, your misspellings, your confessions of love, your, you know, whatever room number you gave them, that's on the record.

CONAN: We're talking today with Ana Marie Cox, the erstwhile Wonkette, author of the book Dog Days, about the crack-berry addiction and the salavage of everybody's addiction by the recent settlement of a lawsuit. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's get a caller on the line. This is Doug. Doug's calling us from Jacksonville, Florida.

DOUG (Caller): Yeah, how's it going today?

CONAN: Oh, not so bad.

DOUG: Excellent. I love your show. Listen to it every morning and every afternoon.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

DOUG: I am an absolutely crack-addict, or, crack-berry addict. I don't do crack. But I can't live without mine. I move at the speed of business, and the speed of business today demands quick reaction. It's no longer the big eat the small, it's now the fast eat the slow.


DOUG: And, even here in Jacksonville, I mean, if I'm mobile, I need to have e-mail in my line of business, I'm a web strategist, so it goes hand in hand with what I do. I make companies money on the web, and, you know, our results are produced, they have to be produced quickly.

CONAN: I understand what you're saying, but am I hearing also a series of excuses for a habit?

DOUG: Maybe. My wife seems to think so. She absolutely hates it. She makes me, she makes me not answer it in any way shape or form whether it's phone or e-mail during dinner. And that's about the only limitation I have to it. But yeah, I mean, it's, justify it however you'd like, but it's just, the reality is that, what did we do before cell phones? Wait until you got home.

Ms. COX: Yep.

CONAN: Yep. And Doug, one question. Is Jacksonville a particularly geeky town? Or is your BlackBerry a symbol of some sort in Jacksonville?

DOUG: No, it's not. They're pretty common here in Jacksonville. A lot of people that I do business with have them. And I see them, I see them a lot, I see them all over the place. And like I said, people move at the speed of business. And now, that's the speed we move at.

CONAN: Doug, good luck breaking the habit. There's probably a 12-step program for you now.

DOUG: I don't want it.

CONAN: There you go. Bye bye.

DOUG: I appreciate it. All right, thanks.

CONAN: And here's an e-mail we have from Andy, on his BlackBerry.

Ms. COX: Of course.

CONAN: I can't put it down, he writes. I keep it in the trunk when I'm in the car. Otherwise, I look at it constantly.

Ms. COX: Oh my gosh. You know, the thing, texting while driving? Huge problem I think in D.C., in particular. Although maybe Jacksonville as well. I think maybe someone should make a film strip, perhaps, about the dangers of texting and driving. Because I've done it, I hate to admit it, I know people who've done it. It's funny, I've been in a car with someone doing it, and I had to kind of look twice. And I'm like, is that what I look like when I'm sending someone an e-mail message from the middle of traffic?

CONAN: We all look pretty funny, also, when we're typing into those little text things with our thumbs. Usually you stick your tongue out.

Ms. COX: Yeah, that's true. It's a, it's the form of concentration. It's sort of a Snoopy look, I kind of think of it like. Go ahead.

CONAN: Let's talk with Greg. Greg's with us from San Diego.

GREG (Caller): Good morning Neal. I love your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

GREG: Thank you very much for having me on. I have a Treo 600, and so I was giggling all last week when this whole BlackBerry scheme was going on. Just giggling to myself, of what a silly thing, this Treo is a wonderful thing, though the addiction is similar. I have to put it down when I go out sailing on the bay. All these sorts of other things, it is, but the ideal nature of having it, to be able to hook up to my power book whenever I need to. I work as a youth pastor, and to have the contacts and calendars just available to me right then is key in my work as, well as, gosh, anybody else who has the time to do something like this.

CONAN: The Treo, for those who don't know, is a slightly more fragile but slightly cooler device. And Ana Marie Cox, that brings us to your confession.

Ms. COX: That's right. I have a Treo too.

GREG: Yeah.

Ms. COX: I actually, when I saw the news in October that it looked bad for BlackBerry, or Research in Motion, I should say, I panicked, because I couldn't imagine how I would conduct my life, both socially and professionally, without one. And so the Treo is a good, I would say, it's not exactly like methadone, because it's just as addictive, you're right. In fact, I was thinking about it earlier today. I think what happened, at least in D.C., is like, BlackBerrys introduced a virus, but that virus can also be carried by Treos. You know, and it's really, that's what the addictive thing is. It's that constant information, you know, the ability to kind of reach out to people, the ability to look things up. I also mean, I do feel, I mean, I have my justifications too. As a writer, I, you know, I actually edited, I responded to edits for an op-ed piece I wrote awhile ago on my Treo in Paris. Which does seem like this, particularly like, kind of, you know, 21st Century thing to do. I probably could have gone to an internet café though, honestly.

CONAN: Well, the BlackBerry itself plays a big role in your book.

Ms. COX: That's right, it does, for sort of the, for some of the reasons we've been talking about. It's a conduit for both, the book takes place during a presidential campaign, and there's a lot of, like, you know, strategy that gets, you know, passed around that way. And, you know, the most updated, you know, poll numbers and clips. But, you know, it's also, there's also some room numbers and some come-ons and some flirtation and some, you know, sort of, let's say, behind-closed-doors planning of a not, little below the radar or the war-room, even.

CONAN: So the prospect would have been, if the BlackBerrys would have gone the way of the Stegosaurus, then the movie of your book would have been made with Treos instead of BlackBerrys, and of course it would've been shot in Toronto.

Ms. COX: That's right, well, yes, also, and I guess that's sort of like having your hand, your, you know, the beautiful blond play the role of the person who's written it, kind of the dumpy, you know, best friend chick. Because it's true the Treos are much cooler. They're shiny, you know, they look pretty. They are very fragile, I dropped mine, actually dropped mine this afternoon, and just was lucky that it landed on carpet.

CONAN: Greg, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

GREG: Thank you.

CONAN: Ana Marie Cox, continued good luck with the book.

Ms. COX: All right, thanks.

CONAN: Ana Marie Cox joined us on the phone from New York. Her book is Dog Days. I'm Neal Conan. This is NPR News.

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