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The BlackBerry and me | Financial Time


Newsletter: FT Weekend

Packing for a move, I rediscover with some pride how little sentimental value I possess. Remnants of a well-lived privacy should dot the seahorse, not the house.

A single, long-abandoned item taunts me of any landfill (or any recycled form) it now occupies. I would have liked so much to keep the BlackBerry Pearl that was issued to me by The Economist in 2007.

BlackBerry has never achieved what vinyl has done in music or Blu-ray in cinema: a fan cult big enough to withstand the march of taste and invention. I am one of the few complainants at the vigil. A few theories suggest why.

One concerns the lost pleasure of touch. The least vaunted of our senses is also the least well served by the modern world. Apple and Samsung’s merchandise has at least one tangible form, unlike streaming entertainment and newer forms of money.

In its alienating elegance, however, the smartphone is the tactile equivalent of bedroom pop or some type of model agency beauty. It invades you. Those who follow these things have remained cold this month as Apple showcases the next of its ever-shrinking circles of smartphone iteration. This is how I felt for the dozen previous models. Give me the awkwardness, the bumpy textured keyboard, the actuality of a BlackBerry.

Also give me the kind of online world that it has made possible. The BlackBerry represented what will be considered the golden age of the Internet. For a few years on either side of the crash, the web has evolved enough to improve lives without going so far as to plausibly replace it. The shift in social media from Speaker’s Corner to Gin Lane pretty much follows the smartphone takeover of BlackBerry. It boils down, I think, to the difficulty of typing anything long, and therefore nuanced, on a touchscreen. The currency of the Internet has gone from paragraph to sentence, from blog to tweet, from word to image.

The Web, accessible via a BlackBerry, was not so rich and immersive either. To lose yourself in an online tribe for hours on end, you had to endure the biomechanical nuisance of being in front of a computer. If there is a benign ineffectiveness, it is this. The question remains open as to whether Brexit or President Donald Trump would happen in a BlackBerry world.

Together, these qualities should be enough to endear the device to a number of commercially viable users. And he still has the outlook of the white rhino. I am forced to conclude that my ardor says less about the product than about myself or, at least, about my generation.

I will be 40 next year. Not too old, say actuaries, but old enough to learn that longing is the most powerful force in the world – that remembered love, for example, is more powerful than real-time love.

The question is to know which phase of life to dwell on. This month, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, the debate resumes over whether Citizen Kane deserves the hype. The nonlinear narrative is less dazzling than it should have been at the time. The cry of the cast, for the most part formed in the theater, still lingers.

On my first viewing in over a decade, I stumbled upon something else as well. It makes a rather mundane wrong note that a dying man would call for the sled he drove as a child. As I get older, I feel that what people tend to romanticize is less their childhood than their first years of loneliness. Autonomy, despite or because of its challenges, is more intoxicating to remember than the caress of parental protection.

This is, in the form of plastic, what the BlackBerry represents for a certain segment of Generation Y. Receiving one from an employer was the first proof of our (self) importance. Our most evocative appointments were arranged on its mesh of keys and its trackball rosebud. All of this covers up memories of low-stakes politics and an economy that would grow at an annualized rate of 2.6% until the sun sets. The device, in the end, was no less fleeting than the world it promised.

Email Janan at [email protected]

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