Never mind the economic crisis. Barack Obama’s true first challenge as president was the fight to save his BlackBerry. Like many politicians, business executives, and of course, Wesleyan students, Obama has been an avid BlackBerry user for years. On the campaign trail he used his Blackberry to keep up with everything from briefing books to White Sox scores. After his election, however, it was predicted that security concerns would keep a BlackBerry out of the Oval Office. “They’re going to pry it out of my hands,” Mr. Obama said.
Late last month, however, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced that a compromise had been reached and Obama would be allowed to use a specially-made security-enhanced version of the device. The result? America’s first emailing president. Though President Obama’s emails may eventually be made public under the Presidential Records Act, for now a very select group of Obama insiders can correspond with the president via email.
It is not so hard to understand why the leader of the free world needs his BlackBerry. But what about the rest of us? Look around Wesleyan’s campus and you’ll see students hunched over their BlackBerrys and iPhones in the aisles of Weshop, in line at Pi Cafe and even while sitting in class. All cell phones offer a source of distraction, but “smartphones” take it up several notches. The common cell phone is quickly being overshadowed by all-in-one gadgets containing not just phone service but Internet, cameras, MP3 players, games, instant messaging, etc. Apple’s online iPhone App Store now boasts over 15,000 programs for sale.
But the potential for constant hi-tech stimulation offered by smartphones can be exhausting and in some cases, downright addictive. If you find you pay more attention to your phone than the people around you, you probably need to makeover your tech manners. Consider consulting the book CrackBerry – True Tales of BlackBerry Use and Abuse: Tips, Tricks and Strategies for Responsible BlackBerry Use. Or pay a quick visit to CrackBerry.com, which prides itself as “The #1 Site for BlackBerry Users and Abusers.”
Wesleyan smartphone users I spoke with did not hesitate to acknowledge the pitfalls of their cellular playthings. One iPhone owner told me that while he appreciated how his phone allowed him to stay “attuned to technology,” he also felt it was “extremely alienating at times.” Another BlackBerry user told me that though she liked always having a computer at her fingertips, she realized she risked relying on it too much. A friend who recently gave up her smartphone summed it up by saying, “What I liked most, and least, about my BlackBerry was that I was in constant contact with the world.”
In the end, it does not matter whether or not smartphones are good, bad or even necessary, because for better or worse, they are not going anywhere soon. Just ask our president.