Pitch your BlackBerrys

There it goes again, that damn BlackBerry buzzing endlessly at all hours a day to satisfy the apparent need to be reachable by friends, family and work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Before long you will feel your BlackBerry going off when it isn’t even there. Before long you will realize you lost the ability to connect with people in ways other than with BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). After my BlackBerry’s usefulness waned, I pitched it as far away as possible, liberated from BBM and 24 hour accessibility.

Many other people are not so lucky.

It is quite incredible how much technology has changed our lives: how we work, how we interact with one another and how we live our lives. What is particularly incredible is how much change has occurred in the past two decades. I would argue that too much of anything is never a good thing.

The advent of BlackBerrys and smart phones in general is particularly changing how people function. Now people can instantly receive emails and instant messages from a range of different options: SMS, BBM, Google Chat, MSN Messenger and even Skype, at least on Android. This of course opens up a whole range of options for how people can harass each other incessantly over the most trivial issues.

This increasing range of communication options has its advantages. People can co-ordinate and organize things far more effectively than in the past. People can stay in touch with far-flung friends in a convenient manner, which doesn’t add grotesque costs to their phone bill. I would also argue employers get far many more hours of work from their employees as the concept of a 9-5 job disappears. As the economies of the Western world struggle to adjust to cheap labour in the developing world and a declining manufacturing sector, this bodes well to keep up worker productivity in other sectors of the economy.

However, I believe that society is going too far to an extreme, where personal interactions are being devalued at the expense of technological interactions. No matter how you spin it, chatting with people through Facebook or BBM simply isn’t as meaningful as a phone call or a face-to-face conversation. Too often is the former replacing the latter.

This is clearly evident in the rapid decline of social skills in society. The worst example of this is an obvious lack of cell phone etiquette. Many have a clear and obvious lack of respect for others.

There is no need to text endlessly in class, and if you are having a conversation with someone turn your phone off and give the person your full attention.

Admittedly, I have lapses on this part on occasion, especially when it’s someone I don’t particularly want to talk to, which is fairly often. Yeah, I’m a jackass, get over it.

I would argue that this decline of social skills has led to a parallel decline of community. With an ever-expanding web of virtual contacts, the time spent building real relationships decline. Ironically, people are connected now more than at any point in history and yet less connected in ways that matter.

This is seen in the decline of voluntarism; whether it is memberships in different organizations, donating to political parties, participating in letter-writing campaigns or even just voting. Political scientist Robert Putnam describes this as social capital — a measure that indicates the health of a democratic society such as ours. A lack of social capital can breed resentment and apathy. Our society is not on a good trajectory.

I know most of you probably aren’t buying the argument thus far; that the era of instant communication is eroding the foundations of our society. Maybe I am being too dramatic. So, why should you care?

Well, for starters you cannot write the English language worth anything. Seeing as this is a university, it is really quite sad that most students can’t string together a semi-proper sentence. I believe this is partly because of instant communications. Instead of writing letters, people are writing, “heey yo, what u been up 2 l8ly?” on BBM. It never ceases to amaze me how people aren’t embarrassed by writing like that. At least in one respect society is becoming more and more functionally illiterate.

So why did I ditch the BlackBerry? It really didn’t have anything to do with the above. I simply hated operating under the expectation of being on call to respond to everyone’s trivial needs instantaneously.

I do still have a smart phone, but not being captive to the “r” and “d” that go along with BBM messages is liberating. I have also consciously avoided checking my phone every five seconds. People can wait.

So, take my advice and pitch your BlackBerry (RIM sucks anyway). And if you are pissed off I called you illiterate, write me a letter to the editor; it’s a step in the right direction.

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