I just spent 6 weeks with an iPhone 5C. About 3 weeks in, I thought I had convinced myself that this was it. This was the closest to smartphone nirvana I had ever gotten, and there was no way I could see myself going back to BlackBerry after experiencing the rich, well-designed, and well-implemented iOS and Apple ecosystem.
Last week, I switched back to the only BlackBerry device I own that is compatible with my current carrier (Verizon) – my stalwart and rock-solid BlackBerry Bold 9930.
Scratching your head on that one? I’m still trying to figure it out, myself. But here I am, enjoying every click of that physical keyboard, every blink of that notification LED, and trying to sort out the decision my subconscious brain has obviously already made.
So far, I think I’ve figured out at least one major piece of this puzzle.
Elder José A. Teixeira recently spoke some universal truths related to this fascinating photo:
“In 2014, the National Geographic photo contest received more than 9,200 submissions by professional photographers and enthusiasts from over 150 countries. The winning photo depicts a woman in the center of a train filled with passengers. The light coming from her mobile phone illuminates her face. She relays a clear message to the other passengers: despite being physically present, she is not truly there.
“Mobile data, smartphones, and social networks have profoundly changed our way of being in the world and how we communicate with others.
“In this digital era, we can so rapidly transport ourselves to places and activities that can quickly remove us from what is essential for a life filled with lasting joy.
“This networked life can, if left unchecked, give precedence to relationships with people whom we don’t know or have never met rather than with the people we live with—our own family!
“The choices and priorities we make with our time online are decisive. They can determine our spiritual progress and maturity … and our desire to contribute to a better world and to live a more productive life.” (Source)
These words have stayed with me since I first heard them. And it has since become clearer to me that the time I spend glued to a screen really can have significant impact on my life and the lives of others.
I’ve done a lot of introspection on this. How many times when my wife or child needed my attention have I said “sorry, I’m busy” because I was transfixed on my smartphone/tablet/laptop/etc. but not really doing anything that was truly important enough to ignore them? How many times have more important things been left undone or unfinished because it was more enticing and easier for me to putz around on my phone? More times than I care to admit.
It’s not bad to be connected to the digital world. It’s not bad to use technology to help us accomplish things and to better ourselves. The free exchange of information and ideas we are witnessing today is nothing short of miraculous. But there are other important connections in our lives. The relationships we have in the “real world” with family and loved ones are essential to our health, well-being, and happiness. And though these kinds of connections don’t require keeping a device charged or connecting to a WiFi network, they do require significant time and attention to maintain.
A few days ago, I went into my son’s room and just started playing with some of his toys. I knew that soon he would discover what I was up to and want to join me, and he did. We had the most wonderful time playing with a toy pirate ship and action figurines. It seems like such a simple thing, but that time we spent together was more precious than anything I could do on a smartphone.
It’s because I want to establish and strengthen more meaningful connections and more easily weed out the distractions that I’m sticking with BlackBerry.
The “gadget distractification effect”
All smartphone users can relate to the following scenario. You pick up your phone with the sole intention of writing a quick text message. An hour later, after you’ve checked your Facebook news feed for the 27th time, watched 8 YouTube videos, and had a back-and-forth conversation with someone on Twitter arguing about Star Trek vs Star Wars, you’re playing Candy Crush when you suddenly realize you haven’t sent the text message yet.
This is what I refer to as the “gadget distractification effect” (I know distractification is not a real word, but it’s hipster and cool-sounding) – the ability gadgets have to keep us distracted, entertained, and otherwise transfixed on their glowing screens, oblivious to the real world around us. They’re circuit board sirens, luring us away in to the endless fathoms of cat videos and flappy bird clones.
I kid you not, it was during a game of Candy Crush that I just stopped and asked myself: “what am I doing?” and decided I wanted to go back to BlackBerry. I realized I had allowed myself to be sucked in yet again, and that it had become really easy to do. I was better able to avoid being distractified on a BlackBerry – especially those of the Bold/Q10/Classic form factor. It’s just not a pleasant experience for me to watch videos or play games on them. And really, that’s not what they’re designed or intended for.
BlackBerry phones are different
Apple and Google may want you to believe otherwise, but iPhones and Android phones are designed with content (videos, music, apps, books, ads, etc.) consumption as their primary functions. Of course they can also be used to communicate, create, and be productive, but that is not their primary focus. Windows Phones offer another solid option, but they don’t have access to the vast content of iOS and Android (although this will supposedly change with Windows 10, which allegedly will be able to run ported Android and iOS apps) and they don’t do communication, productivity, and security/privacy as well as BlackBerry. Windows Phone has only managed to surpass BlackBerry in mobile phone market share due to a combination of BlackBerry’s decline, Microsoft’s ability to throw truck loads of money at WP and continue to support it despite it not being popular or profitable, and targeting the very low-end smartphone market with cheap Lumias.
Then there’s BlackBerry. As I mentioned, they design their handsets around communication, productivity, security, and privacy. They’ve got decades of experience in those areas, which is why they are still sought out by enterprise and government customers (and individual customers who value those things) and why the company has refocused on those strengths during their steady comeback from the brink of implosion nearly 2 years ago.
This is not to say that BlackBerry phones aren’t good for content consumption. Several BB10 apps are among the best I’ve seen in terms of design and functionality on any platform I’ve used (and I’ve used all the major ones). They are also great at digital content such as audio, video, and books (the Passport was designed for easier reading). That these features could be appreciated by the average smartphone user does not negate the fact that they are primarily intended for the power/business user.
It’s precisely because BlackBerry phones are designed for the “prosumer” that they have the ability to do just about anything else that can be done on any other platform.
The very nature and focus of BlackBerry devices has provided an option that is not attractive to the average smartphone user.
But the past 6 weeks have reaffirmed to me one very important fact about myself:
I am not an average smartphone user. And I don’t want to be.
If the average smartphone sees it as a way to disconnect from the world and people around him – to ignore or hide from life for a while, that’s not for me. We all need downtime, but too much can be counter-productive and self-destructive.
I want my phone to be a way to connect and reconnect with people and the world around me. I want it to be a means, not an end. I want it to enhance and brighten life, not obstruct or obscure it.
The average smartphone user doesn’t mind being glued to his screen, and Google and Apple are more than happy to oblige as they rake in the cash. BlackBerry, on the other hand, focuses on creating hardware and software that gets out of your way so you don’t have to be glued to your screen – so you can create, do, feel, connect…so you can live.
Of course BlackBerry devices have their drawbacks. Every device and mobile OS does. I always say that, when it comes to choosing the technology you use, you have to decide which strengths you want and which weaknesses you are willing to live with.
I’m drawn back to BlackBerry every time because they are the best at helping me compensate for my own set of weaknesses.
Meaningful connections require self-discipline
Short of switching to a basic flip phone or ditching a mobile phone altogether, the only surefire way to ensure we are devoting the time and attention needed to nurture and maintain those meaningful real-world relationships is to develop self-control and self-discipline. We need to train ourselves to recognize when the “gadget destractification effect” is setting in and have the courage and desire to set the device aside and focus our efforts on more important things.
I’m trying to develop a greater degree of self-discipline when it comes to the technology I use. I’m even considering trying a basic/feature phone for a while to really reset my priorities and focus. If I choose to use a smartphone, it’s obvious that BlackBerry is the best option for me according to my personal preferences and style. It certainly has a better chance of helping me cultivate the balance I’m seeking when compared to the other available options.
Using technology to strengthen real connections
When used in the right way, smartphones can actually strengthen and enhance important “analog” (real-life) relationships with our loved ones. It has never been easier or cheaper to video chat, instant message, have a phone/voice call, and exchange photos/files with someone half a world away. But as amazing as those communication methods are, they are poor substitutes for an in-person visit, a heart-to-heart conversation, or quality time together. We have to be careful not to let the digital connections in our lives supplant or take precedence over the analog connections.
We are also entitled to privacy and security in our digital lives, and while BlackBerry’s very best privacy/security features are still reserved for enterprise customers or individuals willing to pay for them, BlackBerry phones still provide the best overall security of any smartphone out-of-the-box. You cannot jailbreak or root a BlackBerry. They support full-device encryption, allow you to define specific permissions on native apps, and do not collect your personal information for the purpose of targeted advertising.
BlackBerry phones are built from the ground up to be the best mobile communication and productivity devices on the planet. And they are indeed the best at what they are designed do: maintain and strengthen interpersonal connections and get things done.
The ideal mobile lifestyle
Everyone is different. That’s what makes this world beautiful. We all have different goals, aspirations, likes, dislikes, experiences, hopes, and fears. So, naturally, we all want something different out of the technology use. There is no one-size-fits-all mobile device or platform. They all have their own inherent strengths and weaknesses. It comes down to the individual and what he chooses to integrate into his mobile lifestyle.
I feel like I’m still searching for my own ideal mobile lifestyle – for that balance between the analog and digital worlds. But I’m getting closer. My curiosity and enthusiasm for technology have impelled me to try a variety of different devices and platforms. I have learned from each and every experience and wouldn’t change a thing.
And though I will more than likely venture to try different devices and platforms again in the future, in the end I always seem to come back to BlackBerry. Their phones are the most empowering for the mobile lifestyle I’m seeking.
I also believe in and respect the company’s vision for the future. It’s a future in which technology adds to and enhances life rather than hinders or distracts from it. A future where people and things are more connected, where ideas and information are freely exchanged. Safely and securely. It’s a promising and bright future, and I’m excited to be a part of it.