Volume XVII, Issue 23 # June 4 - June 1, 2009

Own a Blackberry and you’re obsessed with it. It rules you, all in the name of instant communications.

Berry Picking, 21st Century Style

The sweetest berry is surely the one still to come

Give you a reason on compulsion! If reasons were as plenty as blackberries, I would give no man a reason upon compulsion.

–Shakespeare’s King Henry IV: 1596

It is only a couple of weeks away from the annual ritual of picking blackberries in my back yard, and the crop promises to be bountiful.

They are wild, arrived courtesy of birds that fed on the wild bushes on the steep slope dropping down to Stoney Creek at the Burton home up here in North County. The Johnny Appleseed birds then deposited the seeds in nature’s way in big tubs I had originally used to plant tomatoes and peppers. These blackberries spelled with a b in the lower case are most welcome; they’re free, delicious and have no moving parts — or wires, batteries and such.

But now on the scene (I can’t tell you since when because I don’t track electronic gadgetry) is another kind of blackberry. Originated by a Canadian company named Research in Motion, it’s spelled with a capital B and is a compulsion for plenty.

I figured this out a week or so ago, on the Bay for the formal opening of Department of Natural Resources’ 2009 Maryland Fishing Challenge. The rockfish Diamond Jim will be worth $10,000 to the lucky fisherman who catches it. But don’t get your hopes too high. Forty-nine other Jims are imposters worth $500, which can buy a lot of tackle. But $10,000 can cover the electronics and more than a few tanks of fuel.

Such an occasion, of course, brought out the big wheels in the department, the sponsors of the prizes and the press. They all brought their Blackberries. The home office — and even the home — obviously wants to keep everyone on a short lease. On both ends, texting has become obsessive.

Now Where Were We?

On the boat, I watched Blackberries pulled from their pockets every couple of minutes, as users squinted in the bright sunlight to read what was on the screen, then talk or push buttons.

At least those aboard Capt. Ed O’Brien’s Semper Fidelis displayed more electronic gadgetry etiquette than many cell phone and Blackberry users. They didn’t interrupt conversations to play with their PDAs, which is the term for the likes of such gadgetry: Personal Digital Assistant.

I’m sure you have endured the rudeness of those who grab their cell phone or Blackberry to check on any voice or text message, too often without even an excuse me. The other person is in limbo, waiting until the cell phone or Blackberry is put away and the user says Now where were we? That can make you feel pretty insignificant.

What isn’t insignificant is the cost. My son Joel — who has an iPhone in his hands for business and personal use many times more than I have my hands on a computer keyboard — tells me one who is addicted can pay up to $250 to get hooked up and another thousand bucks or more for use in the course of a year.

I find it hard to believe that anyone would ante such a price to be placed on a tether. One might like to be kept abreast of what’s going on, but is it worth it to be at the beck and call of anyone who might want to reach you at anytime, day or night? Rarely have I been in a conversation with someone who — on hearing the ring of the Blackberry or feeling the vibration that means a call awaits — just picks it up, checks the screen, and puts it back unanswered. Own a Blackberry and you’re obsessed with it. It rules you, all in the name of instant communications.

Even gumshoe reporters have gone beyond ballpoints and pads. I’m told by Angus Phillips of the Washington Post that these days many scribes write something called blogs right from the scene. That’s not all. They have turned to tweeting, which is something else I don’t understand, though I’m told it involves sending short messages via Blackberries and iPhones and such.

Caught in the Loop of Compulsion

Whatever happened to a less frantic way of life? To getting away from it all? To I will attend to that when I get back to the office? To Give me some time to think this through?

We’re trading all of that to be in the loop — and methinks we’re losing touch with reality. Where will it all end? I’m at an age where I can say all my blackberrying will be done in the back yard where the fruit of my labor will be fruit — and I prefer it that way. Enough said.