For the past two weeks I’ve been playing Harry Caray, announcing the games for my son’s Little League baseball tournament here in Seattle. It’s a great deal of fun and it takes my mind off my Microsoft job for a few hours each evening. My task is two-fold: I announce all the players as they take the field, and I keep the official score in the official scorebook, which is initialed each night by the official tournament director. Everything about a Little League tournament is very official, owing to the fact that in recent years some older players have crept in illegally (the official cut-off age is 12), throwing off tournaments and causing no small amount of embarrassment to the Little League organization.
Being duly sworn in and verified, I take my place each evening in the scoring tower next to the official scoreboard operator, Nate, a good friend despite being a Sales Manager for AT&T Wireless. Nate is a success, both at sales and at scoreboard operation, so I was not a bit surprised when he showed up one game with a new toy: a Blackberry handheld device. I’d heard about these things and even read an article about the two owners, but I’d never seen one in action until Nate showed up with his.
“I can surf the web with this thing, Ken. What do you think?”
“Not bad, but I can surf the web with my iPAQ. What’s so special about the Blackberry?”
Nate knows me well enough to know that I wasn’t being sarcastic or pulling his leg Having a keen interest in new technologies, I always try to find the unique feature that sets a new invention apart. This enables me to form a mental delineation between products and keeps everything reasonably straight in my mind. For example, Bluetooth does wireless mice and keyboards; flash pens replace floppy disks; and voice-over IP requires a decent duplex card. Chalk me up as another victim of the TV age: I reduce everything to a sound bite.
“Check out the keyboard on this thing,” Nate said as he handed me the PDA-like device.
“Pretty spiffy,” I replied, and found myself punching out a web address in a matter of seconds with my thumbs. “Low learning curve.”
“That’s one of the things I like about it,” said Nate. “It’s like a mini-PC with a mini-keyboard. Everyone already knows how to use it. See, you’re already scrolling with the thumbwheel.”
“Not bad,” I said. “What did it cost? Four or five hundred?”
“No idea. My company bought it for me.”
“I assume the web surfing feature has a monthly price tag.”
“You’re probably right, but again I’m not paying for it, I just use it. I’m all synced up with my mailbox at work. My assistant can make appointments for me and I get them right away. I can even check up on my salespeople from anywhere on the road. ‘Hey, get back to work, you lazy bums!’” said Nate as he simulated a slave-driving boss. I tried to do a cool chuckle like Harrison Ford, but it came out more like the Bloater Brothers on Saturday Night Live.
“How about pulling up Word and Excel docs?” I asked.
“I can read them, but I can’t edit them in their native form,” said Nate.
“Why not? Doesn’t it run Pocket PC?”
“No, it’s all proprietary—the calendar, the organizer, the word processor.”
Sensing a chink in the armor, Nate reverted to his strength.
“Go ahead and check out the baseball scores,” he said. “You’re already at the ESPN page.”
“I’d better not run down your battery.”
“Hah! That thing’ll run for ten days before I need to charge it again,” Nate assured me.
That made me really envious. If my iPAQ has a flaw, it’s that I have to charge it for an hour or so every day just to avoid that ominous warning: “Battery Low! Turn off device immediately or risk losing data!” And here Nate shows up with a 10-day “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
After I finished surfing, I gave the Blackberry back to Nate. I had to admit that it was a nice sleek new product and, being a technophile, I kinda sorta wanted one for myself. But to be honest, it was the same feeling I got when my neighbor Rob bought his new Explorer. Sure it was nice and had that distinct smell and I suddenly had the urge to buy a new one myself. But at the end of the day, his new Explorer wasn’t much different from my old Montero. I don’t need a new Explorer any more than I need a new PDA.
After the game I headed home and waved to Rob as he pulled the Explorer into his garage. Usually pretty laid back, Rob was now waving wildly to hold my attention. He trotted over, holding something in his hand.
“Hey Ken! I gotta show you this! Ever seen one of these? It’s called a Blackberry!”
I swear it’s a conspiracy.
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