Rumors of RIM’s death…
The opinions expressed are her own.
Moral: if I were a stock, I’d be Research In Motion. And me giving out stock tips is like BlackBerry trying to recommend new bands. As someone who fantasizes daily about bartending, retail, law school, hackccess journalism, and pretty much every other plausible paycheck alternative with the exception of teaching kids, I can totally sympathize with the impulse here. But ultimately these alternate realities don’t really play to any of my strengths, whereas wasting time thinking about them plays right into the hands of my epic self-loathing. (A self-destructive cycle RIM seems to be experiencing right now.)
Which is why I feel compelled to step in right now and tell RIM to get a hold of itself. RIM didn’t bounce three checks last week; RIM still has a job to do and millions of users depending on it. What the market seems to assume is an existential breakdown is actually not much worse than the maddening spiral of despair I experience…every time I lose my phone and attempt to communicate using someone else’s iPhone.
Now, sure, the iPhone is a huge step up from the days of typing 4-4-pause-33-pause-999 just to get “hey”…that defined the pre-smartphone mobile text experience for most iPhone lovers I know. So yes, to be fair, it sucked even more having to borrow a phone three or four years ago. Because at least now you can check email, except you can’t. Not without abandoning any pretense of basic literacy, and suppressing the urge to crack the thing against the skull holding your apparently obsolete brain in the process of mustering a pathetic pseudosentence or two.
It gets easier, I am told. I don’t care, and I know there are gainfully employed people who share my views on this. I’ve had a BlackBerry for ten years, and it’s not because of the deranged misplaced sentimentality I harbor toward the “brand” you find in Apple cultists. It’s because it was never even remotely difficult to type a complete sentence on one.
This may be merely a historical accident. When the BlackBerry was born in 1999, the sentence was still the bedrock of written communication, and email was dominated by white collar professionals justifying their salaries, overcompensating college kids trying to impress their classmates, and v1agra spam. So when the time came to liberate this revolutionary new mode of communication from the shackles of the nation’s offices and computer labs, the little Canadian startup leading the way probably did not think too hard about making “ease of typing full sentences” a top priority.
A semi-rigorous scan of the RIM news archives yields no evidence of a “Eureka moment” myth chronicling the magical thing that inspired the company’s founders to equip their prototype with…a QWERTY keyboard, of all things. (The company does refute a persistent “rumor” that the BlackBerry name is meant to reference the trademark miniature keypad with the explanation that it merely “tested well” with focus groups.) In any event, the keyboard was a hit. And in a textbook viral marketing for dummies move borrowed from Hotmail, RIM added “Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld” to the signature of every message sent, which had the effect of deeply impressing anyone on the receiving end of say, a thoughtful 600-word missive of the complexity and accuracy he or she would have theretofore assumed to have required the services of a full-sized word processing device.
Now the reverse phenomenon prevails: nearly everyone changes the “Sent from my iPhone” tagline to apologize preemptively for “any typos, misspellings and/or general inanity” his technological handicap has prevented him from efficiently correcting. Funny how no one ever did that with a RIM device?
Touchscreens are inherently infantilizing, forcing users to simulate the act of fingerpainting in order to achieve anything. If the human finger were a state-of-the-art precision instrument, humans wouldn’t have bothered inventing pencils, knives, QWERTY keyboards, and in lieu of those, limitless varieties of bulky shells to protect their freaking sensitive touchscreen devices from falling victim to another false move of someone’s clumsy human hand. Touchscreens make sense for ATM machines and those self-operated cash registers that are busy destroying all the last bastions of employment in this country, but otherwise they are ridiculous.
Did I mention I loathe touchscreens? Well it took awhile, but late last year the late Steve Jobs finally threw a bone to my people with the second-generation, debugged MacBook Air. What really makes RIM’s core customer base salivate is the MacBook Air. I know this, because whenever I use mine in public strange men who reek of membership in the Top 1% approach me in a semi-hypnotic state, invariably confessing regret for having bought an iPad instead. It seemed like the thing to do at the time, their faces tell you. But there’s more to life than Angry Birds…
Another longstanding component of the BlackBerry appeal is its ability to ease the physical strain of professional life by enabling users to communicate in upright, professional sentences from the bath, the fetal position, and the full assortment of undignified physical positions workaholics pursue in leisure. New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger this week bragged (smarmily) that the iPad had enabled the newspaper to “literally get into bed with the audience,” which is fair enough, but what about the audience’s audience? For a Times reader to communicate competently with whoever he needs to communicate to attain the famous standards of affluence that sell ads in the Times, he either has to get out of bed, or use his BlackBerry.
At the moment RIM seems like a thoroughly dysfunctional company staffed with many bright people who understand all these things and dim people who boss the bright people around. But the founders are still in charge, and the core product is still the preference of millions of people like myself, people who value “commitment, consistency and communication skills” infinitely higher than “superficial infatuation” on their list of priorities when it comes to choosing consumer electronics. Perhaps my consumer psychographic is nearing extinction, but we’re pretty goddamned pessimistic people, and even we don’t think so yet.