My friends joke about it, my boyfriend complains about it, my parents worry about it, and I refuse to admit that it’s a problem. Sure, it’s a compulsive behavior and sure, sometimes I wish I could just walk away, but the risks of quitting have always far outweighed the negative consequences of continuing to abuse it. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s something that will only get worse as I get older. And, as much as I know I’m addicted, I just can’t seem to put an end to it.
Of course I’m not the only person I know who can’t seem to stop compulsively checking their BlackBerry – there’s a reason it’s commonly called the “CrackBerry,” after all. From the gym to Javan’s, the Laundromat to the line at Sharkeez, the bike path to Bill’s Bus, class to CaliRoll, it’s become a given that anywhere you see students, you’ll also see a sea of cell phones. At concerts, cells have become the new lighters, their glowing screens illuminating rows upon rows of raised arms, waving in greenish-glowing time to the music.
Love it or hate it, cell phones are more than just mere communication devices for our generation, they’re extensions of everything else we do – Facebooking, instant messaging, web browsing. They’re the physical manifestation of our constant need for multi-tasking, multi-media, mass communication. Plus, they’re pretty much the best way to get away with playing Sonic the Hedgehog in lecture without getting caught.
My BlackBerry is my portal to my people, my way of finding out what’s going on with my friends, and the tool I use for keeping track of the ten thousand things that I need to do before the day is done. It helps me keep up to date on the latest NCAA standings, (so I can keep up with my boyfriend’s favorite topic of conversation), and the most up-to-date news headlines, so I know what my professors are talking about in class. It reminds me to pay my bills on time, it helps me hone my scrabulous skills, and it even plays my favorite Mariah Carey song whenever someone calls me.
Okay, so I’m probably more tied to it than I should be to any technological device, and it is a little sick that my boyfriend and I have nicknamed it ‘Contessa’ in honor of it’s prissy personality. And, I’ll admit, not only do I worry about what cell phone culture is doing to our collective ability to actually talk to each other, but sometimes I have secret fears about Contessa pulling a HAL when I really have to make a major call.
But worries about what the addiction to all-things-Crackberry could do to our culture pale in comparison when you consider its power to prevent the kind of painful tragedy that so many schools have suffered in the past few years. Last Thursday, as I was getting ready to go downtown, I received an e-mail from Donna Carpenter, the Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services for UCSB, on my phone. The e-mail was pretty simply-worded and it started with “UCSB Police Department received information that a UCSB Professor received a threatening e-mail at his office. UCSB police are conducting an intensive indication.” It went on to say that UCSB authorities would continue to investigate the threat, and it warned students to exercise extra caution.
The next day, I received another e-mail telling me that the threat was still under investigation, and the authorities would be happy to field questions from concerned students at the UC Police Department phone number. And that was just the beginning of the campus’s contact with students in regards to the threat. In fact, students who registered at alert.ucsb.edu received text messages in addition to their emails – perfect for phone-addicted collegians whose computers were at home and whose cells were not equipped for e-mail. The UCSB Alert website even has a place for people with pagers to put in their information, in the hopes of having the University beep them, should something serious be happening on campus.
This incident was the first time the University has used the new cell phone alert system to contact students during times of duress, and I for one was very comforted to see it in action. Knowing that the powers that be can reach me any time of the day or night, on-campus or off, can be a bit creepy at first, but when you think about the potential for an alert system to put important information in the palm of your hand – or on the screen of your cell – during a crisis like the recent tragedy in Illinois, it becomes all too clear how much good something like the cell alert system could do during such a serious situation. And that’s the kind of pro that makes the cons of constant communication pale in proverbial comparison.
Sure, Thursday’s threat will probably (hopefully) end up being just a blip on the school’s security radar. But in a more serious situation, the alert system could actually save lives. And that’s a pretty amazing consequence of CrackBerry addiction.
After all, whether you believe the ability to text 24/7 is a gift from God or a sign of the Apocalypse, whether you can’t stop clicking or can’t wait to put away your PDA at the end of the day, it’s hard to argue with something as awesome as the UCSB Alert System. I’d give it two thumbs up myself, but my digits are still recovering from that last round of cell-phone Sonic.