"Mobile communications are pervasive, personal, portable, and
pedestrian" (Castells et al 2006: 77).
It is spring 2007 in New York City and a group of friends is out for dinner at a Spanish tapas restaurant in Tribeca. The menu is extensive and the group wants to try as many dishes as possible. However, the group is incapable of keeping count of which dishes they'd like to try due to the size of the menu and quantity of sangria that's hitting empty stomachs. No one has a pen or paper to keep track of the order so the evening's organizer pulls out her BlackBerry to help assemble our wishes. The waiter returns to the table and the selections are read off the BlackBerry screen. He is totally unfazed.
The dinner was proceeded by an odd BlackBerry sighting earlier that afternoon at the Museum Of Modern Art. In the gallery's fourth floor hallway there is a group of 20 to 25 young professionals in suits who are clearly on a company sponsored outing. A tour guide is discussing Henri Matisse's large-scale Dance (I) painting which is hung on the wall of the open stairwell, but the painting is not enough to sustain the attention of the adults as a large segment of the group is obviously otherwise occupied. At least eight people huddle together at the back of the group, tapping away on their BlackBerrys. It looks like the modern-day equivalent of note passing at the back of the classroom - they are doing something they know is naughty but is just too delicious to pass up.
In less than a generation the way society communicates has fundamentally changed - phone calls have moved from occurring only at fixed locations and now take place on mobile phones anywhere and at any time. Part of this mobility movement is the rise of wireless data devices that allow users to check emails from any location that receives mobile network services. These devices, such as the BlackBerry, now perform a wide array of functions beyond email and which will be addressed later; for now it's sufficient to say that the BlackBerry has proved enormously popular and it is the discourses surrounding the product that serve as the topic of this thesis.
This thesis argues that the rhetorical strategies employed by Research In Motion (RIM) in their online promotional materials for the BlackBerry Pearl contribute to a discourse of the "professionalized personal." The term "professionalized personal" refers to the professionalization of personal space which occurs when personal activities are described in business terms, including the application of efficiency-oriented management principles to personal contexts. The BlackBerry is a mobile device that combines many of the functionalities of a mobile phone with a laptop, giving the user access to email, web-browsing, network access, and many other features, all in a palm-sized format. Since the BlackBerry's launch in 1998 the device has been marketed primarily as a business tool for professionals but with the release of the BlackBerry Pearl in September 2006 the company is targeting a new demographic: the consumer market.1
RIM promotes the Pearl to the consumer market using themes of family and leisure, creating a discourse wherein connectivity provides the necessary tool for successfully managing one's personal life. The BlackBerry has become a highly integrated, indispensable tool for some professionals, as demonstrated by RIM's continually increasing sales and revenues and the many positive anecdotes that appear in the media. By extending the discourse of connectivity as a necessary requisite for success from business life to one's personal life, RIM opens up a larger market with the Pearl for consumer users. Castells' (2006) work on mobile communications supports this assertion:
Most researchers would agree that work and work processes are fundamentally transformed with the rise of mobile communication, and that a most notable change is the blurring of the boundary between work and the private sphere. While permanent connectivity allows work to spill over into homes and friendship networks, it is also likely that personal communication will penetrate the formal boundaries of work (p.82).
The consumer market represents a larger market for RIM, into which, prior to the Pearl, the company had not tapped. RIM designed and marketed the Pearl for the consumer market using images and language that center on themes of family and leisure. The constant connectivity and increases in efficiency the BlackBerry offers (to business users) is presented as a desirable attribute that can improve the quality of one's personal life. The result is that business frames of reference are applied to private contexts, which creates a new discourse in which the personal is professionalized.
The BlackBerry was developed within a particular set of neoliberal social imperatives that placed high value on increased efficiency, which resulted in RIM's reflexive positioning of the BlackBerry as a tool that fulfils that value. Towers (2005), Duxbury and Higgins (2001), and Sturken and Thomas (2004) link the rise of the mobile phone to the development of Reaganomics and Thatcherism. This new global economic model, a driving-force in many organizations, promotes an ethic of increased productivity and lean operations (Towers et al., p.23). Many technological devices are promoted on the basis of being able to deliver on these economic and social imperatives. On the BlackBerry website there is a white paper that delivers statistics on how much Return on Investment (ROI) the BlackBerry generates. "Business Benefits" are listed under Enterprise operations (an enterprise is a large scale corporation of over 1000 employees), which features a segment titled "Achieve Compelling ROI", along with papers on improving decision making, improving customer satisfaction, and improving productivity. The text under "Improve Productivity" section reads:
BlackBerry allows mobile professionals to remain productive while on the go. A recent Ipsos-Reid study shows that most BlackBerry users can turn 53 minutes of downtime into productive work time each day with immediate access to information and communications. The same study determined that BlackBerry can increase the efficiency of an entire team by nearly 30%, simply by allowing mobile professionals to keep work moving forward while they are away from the office (BlackBerry, 2006, Enterprise).
Kevin Kelly (1998), in New Rules for a New Economy, writes that "The central economic imperative of the industrial age was to increase productivity. Every aspect of an industrial firm - from its machines to its organizational structure - was tailored to enhance the efficiency of economic production" (1998, "Relationship technology"). Sociologist Richard Sennett (2006) ties the shift in economic model to the "unprecedented wealth creation of the past half-century" that is being led by a "generation of new wealth that is deeply tied to the dismantling of fixed government and corporate bureaucracies" (p.1). Sennett addresses what the move toward an emphasis on increased efficiencies means for workers. He asserts that "only a certain kind of human being can prosper in unstable, fragmentary social conditions" (p.2). He claims that the new worker, in order to succeed, must be "self-oriented in the short term, focused on potential ability, and willing to abandon past experience." He believes that these are unusual traits and that most people need a "sustaining life narrative" and that the cultural ideal required in new institutions damages many people (p.2). A number of academics write about the new economy/neoliberal economy and address the cultural and structural shifts these changes have affected, often referencing a trend toward "fluidity" and "flux" (see Urry (2000), Kelly (1998), Sennett (2006), and Castells et al. (2006).
The neoliberal economic model supports a system of hyper-mobility in conjunction with the efficiency imperative, which has contributed to a scenario in which there is a constant flow of information and materials. John Urry (2000) names this flow, "global fluids":
Global fluids are the heterogeneous, uneven and unpredictable mobilities of people, information, objects, money, images, and risks, that move chaotically across regions in strikingly faster and unpredictable shapes. Such global fluids (as opposed to networks) demonstrate no clear point of departure or arrival, just a de-territorialized movement of mobility (rhizomatic rather than arboreal) (p.194).
This thesis uses Urry's concept of fluids and refers to them as one of the key influences in the blurring of boundaries between work and personal spheres. Kelly (1998) asserts that the new economy's "prime goal is to undo the industrial economy by building a larger web of new, more agile, more tightly linked organizations [these upstart firms] bank on constant flux and change" (emphasis added) (Online book, quote from Chpt. 8, "No Harmony, All Flux."). As previously mentioned, Sennett (2006) asserts that the new economy is tied to the dismantling of fixed government and corporate bureaucracies. He claims that "The apostles of the new capitalism argue that the profound transformation taking place today in work, talent and consumption adds up to more freedom in modern society" (p.1). Sennett also refers to a fluid freedom, or a liquid modernity (emphasis added) when citing philosopher Zygmunt Bauman (p.1).
Castells et al. (2006) write about the shifting makeup of societal structures; they assert that there is an increasing tendency amongst businesses to operate in diffused networks, globally or locally (p.78). RIM has leveraged the BlackBerry's reputation - as reported in the media and evidenced by its formidable revenues - for increasing productivity and efficiency in the business context, and has repositioned those qualities as desirable in the management of one's personal life. Paul du Gay et al. (1997) claim that "To create markets for given products, profits are always dependent upon the ability of producers to interpret the changes in meaning that products undergo through their consumption" (p.103). It appears that RIM has interpreted mobility convergence trends and as a result created a product that melds business and personal communications needs into a single device. The convergence of work and personal communications has been documented by Grant and Kiesler (2002) who report "a clear shift in work and personal communication" where individuals are sending and receiving more personal calls in the work setting, and vice versa (p.129). The BlackBerry's facilitation of blurred boundaries between work and private life fits into larger trends of convergence that have developed within a neoliberal framework that emphasizes an ethos of efficiency - an ethos that is now being transferred from a work context into the domestic realm.
This thesis claims that RIM's promotional strategies reflect the blurring of boundaries between work and the private sphere. A cultural studies perspective is used, with emphasis given to the works of social shaping of technology (SST) theorists. Castells et al. (2006), in their panoramic overview of the social/cultural implications of technology and the political economy of mobile communication, write about the blurring of boundaries between work and the private sphere and how technology plays an integral role in that process. They argue that, " work and work processes are fundamentally transformed with the rise of mobile communication, and that a most notable change is the blurring of the boundary between work and the private sphere" (p.82). Castells has been criticized for being overly technologically deterministic. However, for the purposes of this thesis, his work on mobile communications serves as a foundational cornerstone as is it is the most complete overview of the current status of global mobile communications. Some of Castells' more limiting positions will be tempered by the incorporation of SST theorists who place a heavier emphasis on the role of social agendas in shaping technology.
The overarching claim of blurred boundaries is approached by first exploring the corporate history of RIM and the development of the BlackBerry, followed by an analysis of the language and imagery used in the company's promotional materials, and finally an examination of how the BlackBerry has been adapted by users as reported in the media and through empirical studies. This three-pronged approach is loosely based on Hughie Mackay's and Gareth Gillespie's 1992 paper that advocates extending the social shaping of technology (SST) approach to encompass a multi-dimensional framework that takes into consideration (1) conception, invention, development and design; (2) marketing; and (3) appropriation by users (p.691). These subjects will be covered in Chapters Two, Three, and Four, respectively.
Du Gay et al.'s (1997) "Doing Cultural Studies: A Case Study of the Walkman" provides a lively illustrative study of a consumer-technology product from a cultural studies perspective. Du Gay et al.'s work serves as a scholarly template for this thesis as it establishes the value of examining the promotional strategies, or what they refer to as "representational strategies" of technological products. Du Gay et al. (1997) consider the Walkman a cultural product because society constituted it as a meaningful object. They assert that the Walkman is an meaningful object because "It connects with a distinct set of social practices it's associated with certain people and places because it's been given a social profile or identity...and it's represented within our visual language and medium of communication" (Du Gay et al, 1997: 10). It is through Du Gay et al.'s definition of how products attain cultural relevance and meaning that this thesis moves forward in its examination of the BlackBerry. Du Gay et al. (1997) address the role advertising plays in the creation of meaning, asserting that advertising is the "cultural language" which speaks on behalf of a product. They write that "By studying examples drawn from the language of advertising you have an opportunity to analyze these representation practices and strategies in operation" (Du Gay et al., 1997: 25). Du Gay et al.'s work is cited extensively in this thesis, especially in regards to establishing the role language plays in creating cultural meaning. Throughout this thesis the focus is on the language used in RIM's promotional strategies; how cultural and societal influences shape the language and themes used by RIM and what that reveals about technology's role in society.
Examining the influence language exerts on conceptualization and socialization is a well established practice amongst SST theorists, including Mackay and Gillespie (1992), Du Gay et al. (1997), Franklin (1990), and Sturken and Thomas (2004). In The Real World of Technology, Franklin argues that language reveals a society's values and priorities. She writes:
Attention to the language of the discourse is important. Much clarification can be gained by focusing on the language as an expression of values and priorities Language is a fine barometer of values and priorities. As such it deserves careful attention (p.126).
This position is reiterated in an essay written by Marita Sturken and Douglas Thomas (2004) when they write, " desires are revealed through the language that is used to talk about new technologies and the images used to represent technology in contemporary media and popular culture" (p.7). The images and language used to represent the object can create meaning that reveal societal priorities, values, and concerns.
In their cultural analysis of the Sony Walkman, Du Gay et al. (1997) argue that advertising and promotional texts are worthy of study because of what they reveal about the surrounding ideology of technological products. They argue:
An object takes on meaning as a result of how it's portrayed in visual and verbal forms. Advertising is the cultural language which speaks on behalf of a product By studying examples drawn from the language of advertising you have an opportunity to analyze these representational practices and strategies in operation (p.24-25).
The central claim made in the introduction of the reader Technological Visions: The Hopes and Fears That Shape New Technologies (2004), is that language is used to define technology and that our representations of it are key to how it is integrated into our social lives (Sturken and Thomas, p.8). In summary, the position that language can reveal deeper social concerns is well established by the body of work created by the above SST theorists, as is the position that the language of advertising is a legitimate source for textual analysis. Chapter Three is dedicated to an analysis of intent in the online promotional materials for the BlackBerry and Pearl.
The promotional materials of RIM are created by the individuals who inhabit the departments of design and marketing. Their responsibility is to act as cultural filters, distilling commonly held ideas and experiences about the product they are marketing. According to Mackay and Gillespie (1992):
Design is important because it can cast ideas about who we are and how we should behave into permanent and tangible forms. Designers, thus, are a key group in the process of ideological encoding designers are anchored to the conditions of their social existence design is a social process designers work as agents of ideology. Their role is to serve to condense a complex of ideologies into a singular product (p.683).
The language and imagery RIM uses not only implies a specific audience, but reflects societal concerns and values which have been culled by the design and marketing teams and used in the promotional materials. While the images in the ads pull from current societal themes (such as maintaining contact with social networks and achieving success) the images do not likely reflect everyone's reality. Rather, the promotional materials include components that reflect these issues while at the same time creating a hyper-reality of lifestyle images to which most people only aspire. The levels of success portrayed - professional and personal - are to serve merely as aspirational goals rather than a mirror on the imagined user's every day life. Du Gay et al. (1997) write:
In so far as the advertising works, it does so because somehow it gets us to identify ourselves with the types of people or situations depicted in the advertisements Advertising's aim is to make people buy the product, increase sales and maximize profits. But it is also a cultural practice, because in order to sell, it must first appeal; and in order to appeal, it must engage with the meanings which the product has accumulated and it must try to construct an identification between us - the consumers - and the meanings (p.25).
The advertisements serve to represent the possibilities the product enables. Du Gay et al. (1997) further argue that "the language of ads, and the way it works by attaching meanings to identities, suggest that representation is not so much about reflecting the identities we already have as telling us what sorts of identities we can become and how" (p.39). This type of aspirational branding (providing a model to aspire to) is seen in the user profiles on the Pearl website that feature highly successful creative professionals who have achieved certain levels of celebrity, and who all stress the enabling function the device brings to their personal lives in terms of maintaining better contact and increased quality of time with friends and family. The inclusion of family in the promotion of the Pearl may point to broader concerns about a conflict the BlackBerry presents between professional and domestic responsibilities. The narrative from the combined profiles on the Pearl website depicts an implied desire among users to maintain familial and personal connections despite demanding careers, while framing the connection through business management terms. These themes and language will be explored in further detail in Chapter Three through a textual analysis of the promotional materials found on RIM's BlackBerry and Pearl websites.
There is a significant body of academic literature that points to how language shapes our understanding of objects. Based on this literature, it follows that the language used in commercial promotional material also has the ability to shape the understanding of objects. In this case, I argue that since the Pearl's promotional materials incorporate themes of family and leisure in defining the product, RIM's materials are thus in the position where they may contribute to a changing understanding of one's social relations as addressed through the references to family and leisure. While RIM's promotions may merely reflect trends that are already happening, it is significant that as one of the mobile email industry's main players they are reflecting these changes in their materials. With the number of mobile phones projected to reach three billion by the end of 2007 (Wireless Intelligence), RIM is positioning itself to grow within this burgeoning industry. To achieve their goal, RIM's "professionalized personal" incorporates themes of family and leisure in their promotion of the Pearl. The combination of the BlackBerry's cultural caché and RIM's reputation and their dominance in the mobile email industry is currently advantageous for RIM.
By naming and implying desires in the profiles featured on the websites RIM creates scripts for would-be-users through aspirational advertising. The "reality" RIM presents in the website profiles may not be realistic, but it gives the potential user something to aspire to in terms of professional and personal success. The rise of aspirational advertising is tied to what Mackay and Gillespie (1992) term the "scientific management of marketing" which has resulted in "an accumulation of the knowledge to organize societal needs, desires and fantasies around the commodity form" (p.697). Mackay and Gillespie (1992) further argue that advertising has shifted from informational to lifestyle imagery (p.703) and that advertising "stresses the non-utilitarian character of consumption, examining goods in terms of their expressive, symbolic, and orientational function in social life" (p.704). In Consuming All Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture, Stuart Ewen (1988) writes about the esthetic of style. He asserts that,
If the style market constitutes a presentation of a way of life, it is a way of life that is unattainable for most, nearly all, people. Yet this doesn't mean that style isn't relevant to most people. It is very relevant. It is the most common realm of our society in which the need for a better, or different way of life is acknowledged, and expressed on a material level, if not met (p.16).
RIM's promotional discourse addresses this desire for success in the professional and personal world, to be achieved via mobile connectivity of the BlackBerry.
RIM was the first company to develop a wireless email device, the BlackBerry, which was released in 1998; the company is now the leader of a global, multi-billion dollar industry (RIM, 2006 Annual Report, p.11). The first incarnation of the BlackBerry was initially a hand-held wireless email device which was targeted toward, and used by, mobile business professionals in corporate organizations to carry out their jobs. In the fall of 2006, after eight years of exponentially increasing sales and the increasing usage of mobile phones in North American society, RIM released the BlackBerry Pearl, a smartphone that combines the BlackBerry's traditional focus on mobile email. The Pearl is a sleekly designed smartphone that represents RIM's foray into the consumer market, verses the more business-oriented BlackBerry.2
A smartphone is a high-end mobile phone with web-browsing and email capabilities as well as other built-in functions such as a digital camera and a music player that more basic phones generally do not have. Just as embedded digital cameras in mobile phones started out as a high-end feature add-on and have now become standard features for mobile phones, the function and feature-rich smartphones should soon become the new standard for mobile telephony. As highlighted by Castells et al. (2006), mobile telephony was initially perceived as a tool for working professionals, and "from a professional communications device catering to an upscale market, mobile devices have become mass-consumer products" (p.245). It is not surprising then that mobile email devices such as the BlackBerry and the BlackBerry Pearl smartphone, which also function as a mobile phone, are making the same journey from being devices initially marketed to upscale professionals, to devices that are now being marketed to and taken up by the mass-consumer market.
RIM uses character profiles on the BlackBerry website to educate potential users on how to incorporate the device into their daily life by featuring professional and personal details from four "representational" character's lives. The details from the character's lives - Mike, Liz, Tony, and Danielle - will be addressed in further detail in Chapter Three. Based on the details listed on the profiles, one can conclude that the target audience for the BlackBerry has been identified as the creative class.
Richard Florida (2003) defines the creative class as a community wherein its members engage in work whose function is to "create meaningful new forms" (p.8). Florida (2003) breaks the creative class down into a "super-creative core" that includes professionals such as "scientists and engineers, university professors, poets and novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers, and architects, as well as the 'thought leadership' of modern society: nonfiction writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, analysts, and other opinion-makers" (p.8). He also includes a group beyond the core who work in a "wide range of knowledge-based occupations in high-tech sectors, financial services, the legal and health-care professions, and business management" (2003: 8). RIM features fictional and non-fictional user profiles on their websites to create context and feelings of association with the product and work situations. It is interesting to note that nearly all of the people featured in the BlackBerry profiles hold positions in the fields Florida designates as creative professions. The website of the Pearl reflects the creative-class ethos to the highest degree, featuring non-fictional profiles of individuals from the "super-creative" class; an actress, and athlete, an art house owner, an inventor scientist, and a poet/fiction author. These profiles will receive a closer examination in Chapter Three.
Florida claims that membership in this community typically requires a high level of formal education, which in itself implies a high level of human capital. He estimates that roughly 30 per cent of the U.S. workforce falls into this category, up from 20 per cent in the 1980s and only 10 per cent at the turn of the 20th century (2003: 8). The growth of the creative class can be linked to the Information Revolution and the development of the "knowledge economy" which employs "knowledge workers." Peter Drucker (1999) parallels the societal shifts of the Information Age as being of the same scope as developments such as the printing press, the industrial revolution, and the railroad. The emergence of this new class is a further reflection of the trends which the neoliberal economy mobilizes, and it is under this set of conditions that the BlackBerry first arose and in which it continues to flourish.
RIM does not address the creative class explicitly but rather conceives of the market for the BlackBerry as three groups: the "consumer", "prosumer", and "corporate" user (RIM, 2006 Annual Report, p.11). In the consumer market the individual purchases the device for her personal use, the prosumer purchases the device for herself and uses it for a mix of business and personal, and in the corporate market the device is purchased by the company and is deployed to its employees. In its 2006 Annual Report, RIM states that the company was not specifically targeting the consumer market and that they were instead "focusing on the corporate and prosumer markets, where we have established market leadership and a reputation for best-in-class products" (RIM, 2006 Annual Report, p.11). The Pearl market may include the prosumer, but its promotional materials most certainly imply a consumer market as well. The online promotion of the Pearl includes character profiles that show the people using the device in a number of ways that are not at all related to professional activities but rather activities related to maintaining familial contact and scheduling/researching leisure activities. RIM's reflection of the Pearl in everyday family life reinforce Castells et al.'s (2006) findings about the mobile phone and the connection it provides for families:
In the United States, the Asian Pacific, Oceania, and urban areas in the developing world, including Africa, the trend is clear that mobile phones are becoming an increasingly integral part of everyday family life the main justification for the household is that the technology is effective in solving communication and coordination problems within the family. In almost every part of the world, mobile communication has unequivocally demonstrated its usefulness for the coordination of daily family activities (p.88-89).
The mobile phone, by virtue of the constant and far-reaching connectivity it enables, is perhaps the most personal and deeply integrated technological device of modern times. Castells' et al global report on mobile communication describes mobile telephony as globally ubiquitous (2006: 70). The fact that RIM is moving into the personal mobile phone space is socially significant because of its roots as a business tool manufacturer.
In September 2006 there were 2.5 billion mobile phones in use with projections that worldwide connections would hit 3 billion by the end of 2007, according to Wireless Intelligence, a global trade organization for mobile operators. The sheer volume of mobile phones in use makes it one of history's most pervasive personal technology devices. I argue that RIM's entrance into the mainstream mobile phone industry with the Pearl has significant implications for all users of mobile communications as the discourse being used to promote the Pearl impacts how personal and work relations are understood. By mixing themes of family and leisure while privileging business frames to capitalize on the BlackBerry's reputation for delivering success through increased productivity, RIM creates a discourse in which the personal is professionalized.
The difference between the BlackBerry and the BlackBerry Pearl has been described by one New York Times journalist thusly: "[BlackBerry's are] boxy, drab devices used almost exclusively by business professionals. But with better graphics and multimedia features, and the sleek new Pearl available for about $200 with a service plan, the market is changing" (Flynn, 2007). The journalist cites analysts who estimate that RIM may have nearly saturated the business market having sold roughly 8 million devices since the product was launched in 1998. However, the mobile phone market is growing exponentially with over a billion phones bought last year alone, (Flynn, 2007) and for RIM to secure even a small segment of this new market could help it grow considerably.
The BlackBerry Pearl features an embedded MP3 player and digital camera which appeals to a consumer base that is as interested in entertainment features and mobile connectivity, as the more business-oriented applications of email and network access. The Pearl has been designed as a lighter, sleeker version of the BlackBerry that better fits the desires of the more varied mass-market consumer who may use the device for work and personal use; from email to photos to web-browsing, the Pearl is a device that can be used in all areas of life. Young people and business professionals drive the early adoption of new technologies and it is this "coveted consumer market" (Flynn, 2007) that holds the most potential in terms of large-scale sales. The Pearl has been designed to appeal to the desires of the consumer market in terms of combining entertainment functions with the functionality of a mobile phone and some of the more business oriented applications such as email, all in a sleekly designed package that appeals to a consumer's sense of fashion.
The feature-rich Pearl is marketed to an audience that covers a broad swath of the population - those who are of working age and have social networks with which they want to keep connected. This mass-market consumer is imagined as young to middle-age professionals who have busy and rewarding families and/or social lives, as well as a certain level of affluence or disposable income, as the BlackBerry and its associated service is on average more expensive than a regular mobile phone. Targeting the mass-market consumer is a departure from RIM's previous strategy of securing business users through the corporate deployment of BlackBerry's by large organizations. The Pearl leverages the BlackBerry's business reputation, as hailed in the media and demonstrated by the highest sales in the industry, as a tool that delivers success through improved productivity and efficiencies.
The Pearl website itself has high-production value, with a stylized presentation that features several Pearl devices seemingly floating in rays of light while rotating to give the viewer a 360 degree view of the device. The website features profiles of five highly successful, creative professionals, some of whom are public figures. The profiles feature these individuals using the devices in their "everyday" life which includes a mix of business activities, communication and scheduling with family members, and investigating and securing leisure activities. The BlackBerry websites have been chosen as sites for analysis as they contain the most complete source of messaging for advertisements that may have appeared in altered forms in various media such as magazines and newspapers according to the variously targeted demographic. Advertisements appear in highly-trafficked/mass-market oriented locations as varied as glossy publications such as Wired, Vanity Fair, The Economist, and Rolling Stone, national newspapers in the U.S. and Canada, as well as banner ads on major web portals such as Hotmail, MSN, and Yahoo.
The BlackBerry and the BlackBerry Pearl have been well-supported by advertising dollars. RIM's 2006 Annual Report cites a $120.7 (USD) million increase in "selling, marketing and administrative expenses" in 2006 over 2005, bringing the total up to $311.4 (USD) million in fiscal 2006 (p.25). The Report states that "The net increase of $120.7 million in selling, marketing and administrative expenses was primarily attributable to increased expenditures for marketing, advertising and promotion expenses, compensation expense as well as increases in consulting and external advisory costs" (RIM, 2006 Annual Report, p.25). In RIM's third quarterly report from 2007 the company details the promotion for the Pearl:
Area marketing and promotional support for the Pearl has been exceptional throughout all geographies. These campaigns are utilizing various print, Internet, and out-of-home media to communicate the lifestyle advantages of BlackBerry beyond the traditional BlackBerry market and to promote BlackBerry in the retail channel In Q3, we supported the Pearl launch with a multi-fast campaign These programs have been very successful, as evidenced by the strong Pearl take up we've seen (Seeking Alpha, 2006).
As evidenced by RIM's report, the launch of the Pearl was well-supported financially, as was the BlackBerry. The investment in advertising seems well-placed as the company reported the highest quarterly sales ever in 2007 Q3, selling over 1.8 million devices, for an increase in sales of 60.7 per cent (RIM, 2006, Analyst report). The increase in sales resulted in a $274.5 (USD) million increase in revenues in Q3 2007, bringing total Q3 revenues up to $835.1 (USD) million (RIM, 2006, Analyst report ). With such substantial returns on investment there is a strong business case to examine the promotional strategies of the BlackBerry.
There is nothing inevitable about the way technology develops. Technology historian David Nye (2006) gives an extensive list of examples in Technology Matters where technology adaptation took a different course in another culture because of societal decisions on how to adapt, or even whether to accept or reject the technology. For example, Nye asserts that the fact television broadcasting in the U.S. is run as a secular, private, advertising-supported, system, used primarily as a source of entertainment and not educational purposes is a cultural choice (p.19). Even the adoption of the wheel has not been an inevitable choice. Societies in North Africa stopped using the wheel after the third century A.D., preferring to transport goods by camel in the desert region (p.20). Numerous factors can influence the development and adoption of technologies, from geographies to cultural values. Nye writes, "American social values emphasize individualized technologies If the market to some extent shapes technologies, the market is in turn inflected by cultural values" (p.44). RIM is a Canadian-based company, but it is fair to say that its cultural and economic references and influences are thoroughly North-American.
RIM's product development path, from business tool to individualized technology, follows a well-worn path of products as varied as the Walkman and the sewing machine. To develop an individualized technology creates the obvious advantage of having a larger potential market than a niche service or product. One example of this is the history of the Singer Sewing Machine Company. The switch from industrial tool to individualized tool with some simple redesigns and marketing was a move that saved the Singer Sewing Machine company from bankruptcy over 150 years ago. In the mid-nineteenth century the company was nearly ruined due to poor sales - selling only 810 machines a year - because they sold exclusively to industrial manufacturers (Mackay & Gillespie, 1992, p.695). The company redesigned the product for domestic usage and became a household name when they expanded their market to every home in the country (Mackay & Gillespie, 1992, p.695).
Mackay and Gillespie (1992) highlight how the family is perceived by the market primarily as a commodity consumption unit, which results in the capital market's interest in the consumer market, and its interest in support of the emerging family unit that is smaller and consumes more than traditional extended families (p.696). Nye (2006) links the development of increasing numbers of individualized technologies to American values of individualism, as he argues that the market reflects cultural values (p.44). Perhaps RIM's focus on the business market was a natural progression for a company that had been formed with the intent of developing a commercially viable technology.
SST literature is replete with histories about how cultural and economic influences shape technological development and diffusion. Du Gay et al. (1997) provide a cultural history of the Walkman, a portable device that utilized headphones to keep the music listening experience private, transforming music listening into an individual affair. Prior to the advent of the Walkman, music had been experienced in larger, more public venues, such as concert halls, festivals, and outdoor theaters. Even home stereos had a higher occurrence of multiple listeners. Computers were first developed to serve the needs of large business, crunching numbers and keeping track of large amounts of data. The first IBM computers were the size of houses, naturally limiting their usage to large organizations capable of paying for and housing such a large piece of equipment. As computers developed miniaturizing technology, the devices moved into offices and onto desktops, and eventually applications such as videogames and educational programs created the Personal Computer in the 1970s/1980s, a device that is now found in most homes in North America. Mackay and Gillespie (1992) write that "The PC was initially marketed as a work-oriented rather than leisure-oriented technology...the computer as a symbol of progress was as undeniable as the relation between a Rolls Royce and wealth" (p.706). In a similar manner, the BlackBerry's association with business users has established the device as a symbol of professional success, and that image is now being leveraged in the promotion of the Pearl as the device is presented as a key contributor to the user's professional and personal life.
RIM positions the Pearl as a device that responds to the demands of both worlds, reflecting the current trends toward convergence and blurred boundaries. While reflecting the changes, RIM's position also reinforces and speeds up the shift toward convergence of work/personal.
Chapter One has established the theoretical literature to ground and outline the argument that the promotional materials of RIM are promoting a discourse of the 'professionalized personal'. The literature of social shaping of technology theorists Du Gay et al. (1997) and Mackay and Gillespie (1992) establish the importance of language in constructing meaning. The importance of looking at technological devices in an effort to get at societal trends has been established by using the work of Castells et al. (2006), Du Gay et al. (1997), Franklin (1990), Sturken and Thomas (2004), and Nye (2006). Chapter One also established the importance and ubiquity of the mobile phone in today's society, the role RIM's products play in that market, and the concept of blurred boundaries and the "professionalized personal."
Chapter Two is a corporate history of RIM, which provides background information on the product and the political and economic influences that shaped the company. The chapter begins with a physical description of the BlackBerry, explanation of its precise function, and a product timeline from the device's first incarnation as a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) with wireless capability to its current smartphone form. The chapter includes a description of the technology the device runs on and outlines the technological developments that have shaped the device as it has evolved. RIM's history has involved many interactions with governmental institutions as the company grew, including receiving Canadian federal funding as part of the country's innovation strategy, to a near-fatal intellectual property (IP) infringement lawsuit with a small patent holding company in Virginia. It is the cumulative effect of these numerous political power plays over more than two decades that are examined in Chapter Two. Thus, this chapter plays a vital role in contextualizing the technology and company in the proceeding analysis.
Chapter Three provides a critical reading of RIM's website through an examination of the language and themes of RIM's promotion of the BlackBerry on its corporate website. The work of Deirdre McCloskey (1985) and George Lakoff (2003) are used to establish the framework in the analysis of RIM's promotional material.
Corporate advertising uses an array of literary devices, of which metaphor plays an important role because of its ability to imbue meaning and context in any literary landscape. Metaphors are especially useful in corporate communication to contextualize products and create relatable connections between the product and the target audience. Metaphor is used throughout the BlackBerry website to create the context and applicability for their product through themes; for example, connectivity as enabling higher quality family time. The most consistently referred-to personal experiences on the BlackBerry website are those of individual success and close familial connection through constant connectivity. The constant connectivity the BlackBerry enables is presented as key to professional advancement while simultaneously enabling the BlackBerry user to maintain familial contact during work-related absences. I argue that RIM uses metaphor to connect the ideas of family and leisure to a professionalized personal and equates connectivity with personal and professional success.
Chapter Four looks at how RIM's discourse is reflected in popular media reports and the social and policy issues it raises for academics. The chapter ties together the language RIM uses to position the BlackBerry and explore how the technology is taken up and adapted by users as reflected in popular media anecdotes. Work-Life Balance issues such as the addictive nature of the BlackBerry are two of the major themes that appear in media-related user anecdotes. A sampling of the media anecdotes will be highlighted to set the tone for the media discourse surrounding the BlackBerry. The critical and empirical work-life balance studies of Franklin (1990), Duxbury (2001), Middleton (2007), Towers et al. (2005), Turkle (2004), and Castells et al. (2006) will be cited to balance the media reports on the effects of the technology in family and work life situations.
Chapter Five serves as a brief conclusion that revisits the major themes of the thesis, provides a summary of each chapter, and ties back the work of the prior chapters in support of the this thesis' claim of the professionalized personal.
The next chapter highlights RIM's corporate history, from its origins as a small company founded by two small-town students in Ontario, to its present status as a leader in the multi-billion dollar mobile email industry. Chapter Two begins with a physical description of the product and its functionalities, followed by a history of political and economic influences that shaped the company, thus contextualizing the technology and company.
1. RIM. (2006). 2006 Annual Report: the consumer market purchases the device for personal use.
2. Note: The term "BlackBerry" can refer to both the BlackBerry and Pearl devices; however, unless context implies that "BlackBerry" is being used to refer to both devices, BlackBerry is to imply the business-targeted tool.