Winston states that “technological determinist accounts of media history tend to stress the role of media technology in governing the content of communication. Conversely, cultural determinist accounts tend to deny technology this determining role.” This case study primarily focuses on the impacts that BlackBerry has had on the technological advances of smartphones and the impacts of this technology on society and culture.
It may be hard to remember a time when people were not connected to their phones, being able to reach anyone at any given time. Cell phones have come a long way from their inception, from large bag phones to flip phones on to smartphones of today. Technology is moving at an extremely fast pace by adding new features, longer lasting batteries, and faster processing speeds to smartphones every year.
Research in Motion (RIM) creators of BlackBerry revolutionized the smartphone craze. The first BlackBerry hit the public market in 1999, capitalizing on Wall Street and Fortune 500 corporate users who were business savvy minded and wanted to stay connected even when away from the office. RIM pioneered the “push email,” which allowed users to receive an email as soon as it was sent, eliminating the need to constantly check inboxes. BlackBerry also introduced the QWERTY keyboard, updating the design of using the numeric keypad to type from previous cell phones, allowing faster and easier typing capabilities. (Gustin)
RIM designed its own software and ran on its own secure network, making BlackBerry highly reliable and secure, something that businesses and government needed. This became extremely important on September 11, 2001. During the attacks on the World Trade Center, all cellular networks had shut down. BlackBerry worked with their networks to keep the lines of communication open. This was critical as emergency services such as police and firefighters were using these devices to coordinate resources as well as some government officials. After 9/11, the U.S. government outfitted key officials with BlackBerry’s to keep the flow of communication open no matter the situation.
BlackBerry broke the barriers between work and home, an addiction to be always-on, always-connected was born. Unfortunately, RIM’s short sided vision to not meet the needs of the basic consumer eventually became the demise for the BlackBerry (Tsai).
Theory Inflected Analysis
Technological determinism refers to the idea that technology has effects, and these effects drive cultural change. With the introduction of the BlackBerry users were able to stay connected at all times to their work environment. This new phenomenon blurred the lines between work/life balance, soon creating riffs within their personal lives. The phrase “CrackBerry” was introduced because of the obsession BlackBerry’s caused in people not being able to be away from their phones. Smartphones are a product of technological determinism, with BlackBerry’s initiating this new technology, society has become incapable of having conversations and smartphones have changed the way people obtain their information, virtually putting newspapers out of commission.
This obsession of always being connected drew the attention of soon to be giants, Apple and Google, to enter the playing field and take what RIM started and expand on this technology. According to Winston, supervening social necessities are the accelerators pushing the development of media and other technology. The BlackBerry obsession grew on Wall Street and with corporate consumers, however, the technology wasn’t as appealing to the everyday user. Apple and Google had the vision and marketing to produce smartphones that incorporated further functionality than just email and expand the smartphone to include features such as apps and colored touch screens. Unfortunately, RIM founder Mike Lazaridis was stuck in his ways and didn’t see the need to change the BlackBerry design from email and text to adapting new features and thus fell out of contention. By the time BlackBerry did incorporate some new design features, consumers were on to bigger and better technology offer through Apple and Android designs and BlackBerry was unable to recover.
“BlackBerry failed to realize that smartphones would evolve beyond mere communication devices to become full-fledged mobile entertainment hubs” (Gustin). Human Centered Design theory according to Norman is “an approach that puts human needs, capabilities, and behavior first, then designs to accommodate those needs, capabilities, and ways of behaving” (Norman p 8). RIM was revolutionary in their technology but Lazaridis was tied to keeping BlackBerry as a messaging dominant phone, under the impression that BlackBerry’s superior email service and security was what the corporate consumer wanted. However, Lazaridis/RIM failed to take into consideration the larger market of consumers who were demanding and expecting more from their smartphone. RIM seemed out of touch with consumer demands, insisted on producing phones with full keyboards, even after it became clear that many users preferred touchscreens, which allowed for better video viewing and touchscreen navigation. When BlackBerry finally did launch a touchscreen device, it was seen as a poor imitation of the iPhone.
RIM introduced the world to a phenomenon that continues to evolve and change our culture and society. The youth of today are able to access mounds of information at almost any time and from anywhere. These technological advances have had a profound impact on communication and how we interact not only with technology but how society interacts with each other.
With the introduction of BlackBerry, people have come to expect immediate results, creating a society that is impatient and unable to disconnect from their phones. Due to supervening social necessity, phones continue to grow in capabilities thought to improve consumer’s lives that in turn have both a negative and positive effect on communication. Smartphones have begun to create a society that is unable to hold a conversation, almost isolating us to having conversations via text which in turn has lowered our ability to create meaningful relationships.
Not only have smartphones impacted our communication with others, they have also impacted lives socially. With having the ability to always be available, work/life balances are difficult to maintain. While smartphones do allow us more flexibility to complete work away from work, it also can make it difficult to disengage in work, having a negative effect on personal lives. With any technological advance, there will be positive and negative outcomes. In the end, it is up to the individuals to decide who they will be affected and how to best utilize the technology.
Gustin, S. (September 24, 2013). The Fatal Mistake That Doomed BlackBerry. Time. Retrieved from http://business.time.com/2013/09/24/the-fatal-mistake-that-doomed-blackberry/
Winston, B. (1990). How Are Media Born? Questioning the media, 55-72.
Norman, D. A. (2013). The design of everyday things: Revised and expanded edition. Basic books.
Tsai, A. The True Story Behind the Rise and Fall of BlackBerry. Retrieved from http://2machines.com/184127/