| | [2005-04-29] Mobile flirting via Blackberry
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Mobile flirting via BlackBerry
BY JULIO OJEDA-ZAPATA
Knight Ridder Newspapers
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - (KRT) - It's singles night at the Nochee nightclub in downtown Minneapolis, but the patrons aren't getting anywhere near each other - at least at first.
Instead, they're peering and thumb-pecking at handheld text-messaging devices known as BlackBerrys, in the latest high-tech twist on the singles scene.
BlackBerrys are all the rage in the business world, where they're dubbed "crackberries" because they tend to get corporate honchos hopelessly hooked on e-mail. So it's not surprising someone would repurpose them as dating aids.
Nochee deploys several dozen BlackBerrys on Thursday nights so patrons can swap text-based flirtations using the devices' built-in keyboards and brightly colored screens. Users sport numbered stickers corresponding to their gizmos, so spotting and pinging a potential date from across the room is straightforward.
One recent evening, this technology made Karen Aaker feel liberated. "Give someone a BlackBerry and a ****tail, and all hell breaks loose," the 41-year-old small-business owner joked, noting that the relative security of an e-mail screen tends to encourage uninhibited exchanges.
"I just got a message!" Aaker exulted moments later as her BlackBerry vibrated seductively.
Nochee co-owner Fabrizio Ciccone partly drew inspiration for his BlackBerry night from a nightclub in his native Italy that puts telephones at each table so patrons can ring each other.
Nightclub promoter Ann Meingast helped Ciccone update the gimmick, sweet-talking the Nextel Communications wireless-service provider into donating 50 BlackBerrys.
The organizers are hoping the BlackBerry activity will take off the way text-message dating in various forms has in the gadget-obsessed Far East and Europe.
Even in the United States, where mobile messaging isn't as popular, matchmaking services, such as Match.com, Lavalife, Webdate and SMS.ac, have scrambled to squeeze themselves onto mobile phones' tiny screens. The Sprint wireless-service provider recently announced it would feature several of these on its handsets for flirting while on the go.
Nochee's BlackBerry night is a more limited form of mobile matchmaking because the devices are only intended to talk among themselves within the nightclub's confines. Even so, word seems to be getting around. Meingast says she has fielded inquiries from other nightclubs and may soon organize more BlackBerry-dating nights around town.
But it's not clear her BlackBerry scheme has the makings of an enduring trend. Many of the devices sat idle when we were there, which made for relatively slim pickings around the establishment.
This annoyed patron Jerry Bower, 33, who arrived with a friend. She received several e-mails, but he got none. "It was kind of a dead night," the computer consultant said. "There wasn't a whole lot going on."
Others have been a bit luckier.
Staci McGinty said she feels right at home with a Nochee-issued BlackBerry because she is a heavy e-mail user and likes the idea of exchanging text messages with potential dates. "I don't like going up to people I don't know," the 24-year-old court reporter said. "It's not in my nature."
On Nochee's inaugural BlackBerry night, McGinty swapped messages with two men other than those in her circle of acquaintances. One guy looked fine from across the room but, on closer inspection, turned out to be in his 40s - likely too old for her. Still, they exchanged phone numbers.
Sam Dabruzzi had the opposite problem. "I ended up text-messaging with a couple of people who were quite a bit younger than me," the 43-year-old said. But he didn't consider the evening a waste because he could text-chat with his pals, who had also checked out BlackBerrys. This made gossiping in the noisy club easier, he said.
The BlackBerry users ran into a few minor glitches. Bower and others said the numbers on patrons' stickers were a bit too small to make out comfortably across the darkened club, so organizers plan to make them more prominent.
Meanwhile, a test message Bower sent took a full five minutes to reach its destination. Other missives made the trip almost immediately, but even occasional delays point to a potential problem: Because Nochee patrons are using standard text messaging, their exchanges lack the rapid-fire spontaneity of real-time instant messaging that is popular among computer users and some portable-device users.
Instant messaging does work on BlackBerrys, though, so event organizers have the flexibility to switch. Meingast said she will mull the option.
But Ciccone said the BlackBerrys should prove vital as icebreakers. Men, in particular, will behave more sweetly and sincerely with women in the privacy of e-mail even when hanging out with pals. "If a man is surrounded by too many buddies, he talks like the buddies," Ciccone noted. "With the BlackBerry, he can express what he really feels."