Ask any BlackBerry user who subscribes to any of the island's telecoms services and he or she will fess up to fiddling with the palmtop gadget for most of the day. In fact, a recent study conducted by Rutgers-Camden University School claims the BlackBerry is fuelling a rise in email and Internet addiction, with surfers able to survive only a few minutes without checking for new mail. According to Forbes.com, Research In Motion (RIM -- the Canadian-based company that creates the BlackBerry smartphones -- in 2008 "shipped more than 4.4 million handsets".
And perhaps of that number, many of these high-end handsets have ended up on The Rock.
Though attempts to obtain actual figures as to how many BlackBerry users are on the island's three major networks were futile, Brian Bennett-Easy, Digicel head of business solutions, shared that his company had sold more than 5,000 BlackBerrys in the first two years of distributing the smartphones.
The addiction, he believes, is due in part to people's innate need to belong to a larger group. "We ride on a lot of fads, we watch cable television and see those Verizon or AT&T ads and think 'I want one of those'," said Bennett-Easy as he attempted to explain why the phones have become so popular.
Its status as a symbol of social arrival might be questionable, but there's no denying that the BlackBerry Messenger or BBM, which allows users to connect with others anywhere in the world at a relatively minimal charge, is perhaps the smartphone's strongest selling point.
"The BBM, that's when it becomes addictive," Bennett-Easy said, noting, too, that coupled with the email capabilities the handset becomes a formidable business tool. Indeed, he's spot on since BlackBerry users are able to multitask in a way that was never common among the business set. "The ability to manipulate email will add value to any business' bottom line as users may sit in a three-hour meeting while still have access to their desktop," Bennett-Easy said of the device which promotes efficiency.
The BlackBerrys on all three networks range roughly from J$30,000 to J$50,000 in terms of price -- no small amount in today's tough economic environment. What's more, the Digicel exec outlined that there are more than 50 companies that have the BlackBerry Enterprise service through which their executives may communicate with each other. Think vast networks or servers with hundreds of phones attached that allow system administrators to manipulate sans Digicel's intervention.
"Another great feature that attracts people to the BlackBerry is security, if the device is lost, then the system administrator can remotely disable email function or in some cases the handset without need of calling Digicel," Bennett-Easy said. Though the phones largely appeal to the business consumer, the social networking facilities such as Facebook, Twitter and MSN/Yahoo messenger systems continue to appeal to a larger group of people.
"I'm addicted to Twitter, so by extension I'm addicted to my BlackBerry," shared Josanne Brown, a student of the University of the West Indies.
Never before has society been able to transmit information with such speed and the BlackBerry has helped to fuel this type of culture. The devices continue to get smaller even as they get more effective, and they don't seem to be going away anytime soon.