Break the BlackBerry habit

December 18, 2008


To: President-elect Barack Obama

From: A concerned citizen

Re: Your BlackBerry

Word on the street is you’re negotiating with the Secret Service to keep your BlackBerry come Jan. 20. I applaud your moxie. And I understand. Really, I do. I know how much you love that little gizmo; love its soft, flickering light, its ergonomic thumb wheel, its tremendous power (soft power, of course) that makes you feel so connected, so in touch, so outside the bubble.

But, please, I beg of you, don’t do it. Lose the BlackBerry, Mr. President-elect. Not only for the sake of your personal security but for the sake of the nation. You see, having a BlackBerry strapped to your hip will make you a worse president, not a better one.

You’ve seen the studies. People who multitask end up performing each task a bit more poorly. So, although it’s true we need a president who can juggle several issues at once, we don’t need a president who falls prey to “continuous partial attention.” That’s when, in the words of Microsoft executive Linda Stone, “we constantly scan for opportunities — activities or people — in any given moment. With every opportunity we ask, ‘What can I gain here?’”

That is no way to live a life, let alone run a nation.

“But,” you say, “what about the dreaded bubble? A president could suffocate in there.” True, but the BlackBerry is not the solution. Besides, there are times when presidents need to dive deeper inside the bubble, shut out the advisers and pollsters — and yes, even the voters — and get in touch with their inner Lincoln, who, by the way, did just fine without a BlackBerry. So did JFK. Indeed, who knows how the Cuban missile crisis might have turned out had Kennedy been nervously thumbing his BlackBerry instead of pacing the Oval Office in deep thought.

So, ditch the BlackBerry, and while you’re at it, ditch e-mail altogether. You don’t want an in-box brimming with snippy back-and-forths among your “team of rivals.” It would only make you want to step in and make peace — an honorable impulse, sure, but one that will eat up a lot of your precious time. When that phone call comes at 3 a.m., you should be sound asleep, not hunched in front of a computer screen firing off just one more e-mail.

Look, I know that your love of your BlackBerry puts you in sync with the American people and their addiction to mobile technology. A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project survey found that 51 percent of those surveyed said it would be very hard to give up their cell phones. (The other 49 percent are in denial.)

This is where you need to break with the American people and go it alone. It won’t be easy. I know. The other day my iPhone went on the blink and I found myself — for nearly four hours! — in a strange and terrifying place. I was disconnected, out of touch. No bars. The classic stages of grief quickly settled in. First, denial. (No, there must be a mistake. I’ll try that call again, and again.) Anger. (It’s my wife’s fault! I bet she forgot to pay the bill!) Bargaining. (Please God, let me send just one e-mail and I promise never to bad-mouth my wife again.) And finally: acceptance. (Actually, I never quite made it to acceptance.)

But you’re better than me. You can quit the CrackBerry habit. After all, you quit smoking. You did quit, didn’t you?

So, with all due respect, Mr. President-elect, lose the BlackBerry and give the highest office in the land your continuous, full attention. The people will thank you. You just won’t read about it in an e-mail.

— Eric Weiner is the author of “The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World,” due out in paperback in January.


humbleman 9 years, 3 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Thinking_Out_Loud 9 years, 3 months ago

Methinks humbleman has a financial stake in this "unbelievable" software company. A single post, secured his username on January 23....

staff04 9 years, 3 months ago

Yes, yes! Be more like the Bush White House! When the Obama Administration arrived they found ancient computers loaded with ancient software...that served us well now, didn't it?

cthulhu_4_president 9 years, 3 months ago

staff04: Interesing, and hilarious, if true. Is there a source to accompany your claim?

oldvet 9 years, 3 months ago

Keep using your "secure" blackberry... by the end of the month at least 4 high-school kids will have hacked into it and put your contact list on the internet...

Trobs 9 years, 3 months ago

Vet wins. I guarantee it will get hacked.

staff04 9 years, 3 months ago

cthulu:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/21/AR2009012104249.htmlOldvet:I agree that it will be promptly hacked, but from what I understand of it, they will be keeping a tight rein on what kinds of messages he will be able to send/receive on it.

beawolf 9 years, 3 months ago

It's not the use of the Blackberry but how it's used. I have a feeling that he's not going to store the nuclear armament codes on there.Same goes for email. Just because he's the President doesn't mean he needs to dump technology.One other point. You don't hack into a blackberry, you hack into the server that stores it's data. It's not as easy as it sounds.

cthulhu_4_president 9 years, 3 months ago

thanks staff. Even more hilarious than I thought it would be. I wonder if they heard a dial-tone when they tried to get on-line for the first time?

gphawk89 9 years, 3 months ago

"When the Obama Administration arrived they found ancient computers loaded with ancient software"Speaking of the computers, did the outgoing Bush staffers remove all of the "O" keys from the keyboards like the Clownton staffers removed all of the "W" keys when he left eight years ago? Or maybe Bush's folks were above doing something that childish...

preebo 9 years, 3 months ago

There is a reason they are referred to as the "Crackberry." I have been unable to shake my habit for five years now. I mean, I go back to the "Speak and Spell" version in 2004. When my firm first gave me that enormous device, I said it wouldn't last long before I would leave it at my office or lose it. I just got my Storm and this thing is too damn addictive.

staff04 9 years, 3 months ago

Did you read the article gphawk? They may not have pulled a prank, but it doesn't sound like they left the place in great shape either.

Connacht 9 years, 3 months ago

Did it ever occur to anyone that having a blackberry could provide critical information and quick access to someone in a crisis? Of course not, everyone is comfortable with their president sitting and reading a children's book after being told that America is under attack. And I'm so certain this author knows Obama well enough to comment on his inability to multi-task effectively. Give me a break! Everyone thinks they know what's best for everyone else.We don't need 19th century leaders. And I'm starting to think we need a lot fewer "authors" citing studies in which they did not participate.

rlmtyco 9 years, 3 months ago

I love my blackberry, dont go anywhere without it, its my connection to all news and email wherever I am.

gphawk89 9 years, 3 months ago

"Did you read the article gphawk? They may not have pulled a prank, but it doesn't sound like they left the place in great shape either."I read the article. Where does this article state that Bush staffers left the place in less-than-great shape?

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