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Old 03-28-2005, 10:56 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default [2005-03-28] 'Blackberry thumb' explained

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Sheer usefulness powers device's over-use, say users Study suggest they do turn down-time into productivity

The little box paradoxically keeps people chained to the office, while liberating them. It has spawned addicted "CrackBerry" users who can't get enough of their electronic toy. It has created an ailment called "BlackBerry thumb" apparently caused by overuse. "I fall into the addiction level with my CrackBerry," happily confesses Tim Stanley, sales manager for Informatica Corporation, a software company. Stanley works in a virtual team with members dispersed across Canada, California and the U.S. mid-west.

"I get about 80 to 100 e-mails per day," explains Stanley. "I answer more than 50 per cent via my BlackBerry."

The electronic gadget allows wireless connection to e-mail, phone, Internet, and company databases and applications.

The ranks of followers is growing. Waterloo-based RIM launched the BlackBerry in 1999. Half a decade later, the company boasted one million subscribers. Ten months later, in November 2004, subscribers doubled to two million. When annual revenue is announced in April, Forbes magazine expects the BlackBerry will be as big as Apple's widely popular iPod.

"Last year was the tipping point," says Allan Cox, a corporate account sales agent for Rogers Wireless. "Now it's beyond engineers and those in sales. We now find that the CEOs and CFOs have got to stay in tune and can't wait for (traditional) e-mail access...If you don't have one people ask `why don't you?"

They have become a status symbol, Cox says. "Even if you don't use one, you want it to look like you do."

But BlackBerry ownership has its cost, beyond the price tag and the monthly wireless fee.

Expectations are high once you do have one, Cox warns, because "it's always on," and those sending messages are aware of that.

"The intrusion of business in personal life is unfortunately a trend in society," says self-admitted addict Stanley. His colleagues in California regularly have questions at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. because of the time difference. And if they send Stanley a message, they expect a response.

"My students expect a quick turnover of their messages," agrees Markus Geisler, professor of marketing at York University. "They expect a message back 10 minutes after they sent it. Four years ago I could have taken two or three days."

But Mark Guibert, vice-president of marketing at RIM, won't let the product that makes up 70 per cent of his company's reputation be blamed.

"I don't think technology makes workaholics," argues Guibert. People are pre-disposed to work or wanting a work-life balance. "Now people have the freedom to choose...If you're type-A, you'll choose to work."

The paradox of technology that wireless innovation faces is common, says Geisler. "You solve one problem, but then you create another."

Besides giving workaholics a fix, the technology has also spawned executives who are oblivious to common corporate courtesy.

An example: executives who respond and check their messages during meetings.

"The higher you are on the food chain, the worse of an offender you tend to be," observes Stanley. "I know I have good momentum (during a sales call) when people are not looking at their BlackBerry."

But the same rules apply as with cell phones, Cox explains. The etiquette is simple: respond to BlackBerry messages if the situation would allow you to talk on the phone.

According to an Ipsos Reid study released in 2004 called Analyzing the Return on Investment of a BlackBerry Deployment, the average user was able to convert 54 minutes of downtime into productive time.

An early adopter, Marc Odrich has been using different generations of BlackBerry since it was first launched.

An eye surgeon in Manhattan and a medical director for Visx Inc. in California, Odrich uses his BlackBerry for e-mail, telephone calls, and for accessing the latest research on side effects that patients might experience from medications.

"Yes, I think it's addictive," he says. "But calling it a CrackBerry implies it's a bad thing. I can do more because of it. It's liberating."

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