By Jim Poling Sr.
I love when spring cleaning uncovers a treasure of the past.
There it was among the rubble of a long-forgotten junk box: a once valuable tool and an important piece of history. A true treasure, totally useless today except for its memories.
It was my BlackBerry, tossed aside years ago; another victim of a fast-moving world that waits for nothing, or no one, to catch up. I hold it fondly, reflecting on the ingenuity that created it and how we need more ingenuity in these troubled times.
My BlackBerry’s history is fascinating, and inspiring. It once was the smartphone, controlling 50 per cent of the U.S. smartphone market and 20 per cent globally. The Business Insider website reported that at its peak in 2011, BlackBerry sold more than 50 million units.
BlackBerry Limited (formerly Research in Motion) was created in 1984 by two Ontario college engineering students – Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin. In the 1990s they invented a two-way messaging system which grew into the BlackBerry – a pager capable of email and a telephone.
Everything about the BlackBerry was quirky. First, it had a QWERTY keyboard instead of an alphabetical key arrangement. The QWERTY keyboard has those six letters starting the first alphabet row of the keyboard instead of the ABCDEF on the first manual typewriters.
Even the BlackBerry logo was quirky – seven of what appeared to be seeds from a black berry. (Actually, they are drupelets, but explaining them will get us deeply into botany terminology).
One really cool aspect of the BlackBerry was the way it fit into your hand. It was small, but had a solid feel; not too heavy, not too light. It operated nicely with one hand, sitting comfortably in the fingers while allowing the thumb to operate the keyboard and most of the controls.
I find today’s iPhone clumsy and awkward. I need two hands to operate mine properly and still make many typing mistakes. But maybe it’s just me.
My BlackBerry also had a cool case. It clipped securely, but unobtrusively, to my belt. It had a flip down magnetized tab that prevented the unit from falling out of the case.
All in all, BlackBerry had a simple design, was easy to learn and easy to use.
The Apple iPhone collapsed BlackBerry’s market. Apple kept introducing new versions, adding features that grabbed the attention of consumers.
iPhones were more of a fun toy. They had games and personal apps, and of course, very serious cameras. Even today they are more about entertainment than getting serious work done.
Obviously, today’s iPhone and other smartphones are used for work, but my view is that they are more personal devices used mainly for casual chat, games, and personal apps.
Certainly, they are an important part of our lives. Most people have them and I’d guess that most people would prefer them over the old-fashioned BlackBerry.
The question now is what do I do with a long-forgotten BlackBerry retrieved from a hidden junk box? I decide to consult Google – on my iPhone, of course.
There is no shortage of suggestions. One wag suggested coating it with peanut butter and giving it to your dog to play with.
Another suggests gathering a group of friends, who also have abandoned BlackBerries, and hold a skeet shooting party.
I have an idea of my own. I am going to mount it on my desk next to my laptop. There I will be able to touch it fondly every time something goes wrong with the laptop, or one of its programs or apps, or the internet service, or when I receive scam emails.
My old BlackBerry will be like a crying towel. When things go wrong in this wonderful technological age (which is pretty much daily) I will reach out, caress it and yearn for a return to the days when most things worked well, and if they didn’t, you could fix them yourself.
And, I’ll yearn for the ingenuity of those two college kids who invented a machine that changed the world.
A lack of their kind of thinking has left us fumbling and stumbling through a predictable pandemic that is taking millions of lives, ruining many others and destroying our economy.