August 31, 2008

We've all got one. A friend or loved one who can't be separated from their Blackberry for more than a few hours. When I first met my friend Sophie she was holding her Blackberry so tight it was clear it was a situation. Right from the start, I knew what I was in for. She didn't try to hide her attachment or pretend it was only used for work. She was upfront - friendship with her meant I would be receiving "sent via Blackberry" e-mails.

I adapted and got used to it. Soon I discovered I even enjoyed it. I liked that I could always reach her and that I would receive instant responses to all of my questions. There was no end to the conversation. A dream come true.

The problem was when I didn't hear back from her for over an hour. Did something happen? But invariably, there was a reason. She was in yoga. Or asleep.

Then one day she told me she felt there was an inequity. I could reach her at all times but she couldn't reach me. When, she asked, would I be getting a Blackberry? I put it off. And made excuses. But I realised that if I didn't give in our friendship would suffer.

I got an iPhone. Only I was so freaked out that it stayed in the box for a month. Then slowly, I began to test it out and see how it worked. I would practise for a few minutes and use a new a feature. Each day I could tolerate using it a little bit longer. The way athletes trained for the Olympics, I was training for my sport: phone-usage.

In London, my mobile-addicted friend Patrick was impressed. His phone dependence had gotten so bad that his family are considering an intervention. So using the iPhone around him felt a bit cruel. Like eating chocolate around someone on a diet.

Sophie, meanwhile, was thrilled. "You have no idea how happy this makes me," she wrote back to the first e-mail I sent from the iPhone.

I was less enthusiastic. Partly because I was confused. I would send her messages that asked: Is this working? What time does it say it arrived? UK time or US time? What time did you get it? Why is there a delay? Figuring it out was a full-time job. And there was a sense of defeat. The point of it was to make my life easier. Maybe my life wasn't capable of being easier.

People say all the time that technology has improved our lives but I'm not so sure. Using my laptop computer has given me backaches, eye problems, wrist-aches and a sore neck. There's also the potential for contracting MRSA from the keyboard and getting a hump. No one should have a hump before they're 90.

A few days ago I got a call from Sophie. She was in a state. Her Blackberry wasn't working and it would be five days before it was fixed. She repeated this with disbelief, "Five days??"

I was nervous because she seemed unable to cope. All emotion in her voice had been neutralised. She wasn't sleeping. "I'm waking up every 15 minutes checking to see if it's working again," she said. "I feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway."

That she felt cut off from the world on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was disturbing. But even more disturbing was that I understood. It's not that I need to send e-mail at 4a - just knowing I can is a comfort.

In the end, it wasn't five days. It was two days. And it was over a weekend - not a lot of e-mail traffic. When she let me know it was working again she sounded ecstatic. The way most women sound when they announce they're getting married. "I'm so happy I could cry," she said. But is this really a happy ending?