On January 10, 2006 Comedian Rick Mercer performed a skit on his show, The Rick Mercer Report on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, poking fun at the self-absorption of BlackBerry users. The skit was formatted in the style of an advertisement and features a hapless BlackBerry user walking through his daily life, glued to his device and oblivious to his surroundings with often disastrous results for by-standers and user. The "advertisement" is for a BlackBerry Helmet, the "ultimate BlackBerry accessory" with "reinforced polymer to protect the skull of the mobile professional on the go." The helmet features a camera that beams images of the user's surroundings so that they never have to look up from the BlackBerry. An antenna for better reception so the user can spend more time on his/her BlackBerry is announced at the same time that the image ad shows the character stepping out of a steaming shower still attached to his BlackBerry. The segment underscores concerns (serious or not) about the role these technologies play in our daily lives. With the Pearl positioned to reach a wider audience than the business-oriented BlackBerry, these concerns about technological self-absorption are likely to continue to increase.
The steady expansion of the BlackBerry market, from a business-oriented tool used by only "high-power" executives less than half a decade ago, to a device that is now positioned as a must-have communication tool for an expansive consumer market, is a remarkable transformation. The shift has been the result of a concentrated effort on RIM's part, but more notably for the purposes of this thesis, the shift is also representative of deeper economic and social trends that reflect a neoliberal ethic of increased productivity and efficiency as reflected in many organizational cultures. RIM is "on-trend" in the sense that in an environment that is increasingly reflecting convergence trends - between work and family life - they are explicitly linking a management ideal individuals are already comfortable with in their work life, and making it appear as an appealing and applicable principle for their personal life. RIM has demonstrated the power of the BlackBerry in the business world and is now translating that same message into an only slightly massaged version for the consumer-oriented Pearl.
In Chapter One the concept of the professionalized personal was introduced, as well as the idea of "blurred boundaries" and the "fluidity" of the neoliberal economy. Castells et al. (2006) established the framework on blurred boundaries, and Sturken and Thomas (2004), Duxbury and Higgins (2001) elaborated on the rise of the mobile phone with neoliberalism. Kevin Kelly (1998) and Richard Sennett (2006) analyzed impressions of the "new economy" for individuals in the system, and alongside John Urry (2006), write about the trends toward "fluidity" that the new system requires. This thesis then linked these broader economic and social trends to RIM's positioning of the BlackBerry as a tool that enables users to respond to this changing dynamic, bringing greater efficiency, gained through increased flexibility and fluidity amongst public and private lives. The BlackBerry started out as a business tool which delivered efficiency gains for business users, but as the trend has broadened the Pearl has been designed and marketed to address and reflect those demands which have extended into the personal.
Chapter Two addressed the social conditions in which RIM and the BlackBerry developed by providing a corporate history of the company. The chapter began with a description of the product and technology, and then moved into the importance of the mobile phone in the global economy and an outline of predicted industry trends. Background on the company's founders, sources of funding, as well as an outline of the lawsuit was provided, as well as a look at how and why the BlackBerry became so ingrained in U.S. business and government, which created a base that allowed it to launch into other markets.
Chapter Three focused on the language used in promoting the BlackBerry and BlackBerry Pearl on the product's websites. The examination of advertising language as a suitable text for analysis was supported by the scholarship of Franklin (1990), Du Gay et al. (1997), Sturken and Thomas (2004), Mackay and Gillespie (1992), and Middleton (2007). The analysis revealed themes of leisure and family highlighted throughout the websites, especially on the Pearl website, reflecting distinctly North American aspirations and ideals of success. Both websites also reflected stereo-typed gender norms despite an overall appearance of equal-representation in business-scenario depictions. The BlackBerry is clearly linked with increased productivity, which is a value that is carried over to the promotional materials for the Pearl. The Pearl's primary audience is the mass-market consumer who is targeted with messages that make the device applicable to "every-day" life, not strictly work-life. It is in this convergence, the productivity message combined with the "every-day" scenarios on the Pearl website, that the professionalization of the personal is most clearly seen.
Chapter Four starts out with a citation from Turkle (2004) about humanity's concern with their relationship to technology (p.23). The chapter goes on to give an account of society's current concern with the BlackBerry as reported through the media and by scholars studying the device. The reception the BlackBerry received in U.S. politics is explored in more depth, as well as themes popularly reported on in media stories about the BlackBerry, including a history of the term "crackberry." The second half of the chapter summarizes recent empirical studies done regarding the BlackBerry, including whether it actually operates as a tool of efficiency, and follow-up concerns about work-life balance, and issues of addiction. The cacophony of conflicting voices that emerge reveal an on-going struggle to negotiate roles and boundaries in our lives for technology.
Chapter Five serves as a summary of topics and methodology used throughout this thesis. John Urry's (2000) statement that "uneven and unpredictable mobilities of people, information, objects, money, images, and risk, are moving chaotically across regions in strikingly faster and unpredictable shapes" (p.194), is prescient and will be applicable over the coming decades as mobile technologies become more innovative and omnipresent.
This thesis used RIM's BlackBerry as a case study to examine the interaction between social influences on the development and adaptation of technology. A particular emphasis was placed on the role language plays in reflecting and shaping those developments. Sturken and Douglas' (2004) argument that historical context - which includes attention to the effects of rhetoric and metaphor - is needed in order to make an assessment of how technologies integrate into contemporary societies, was used as the foundational principle of this work (p.9). The emphasis on language has been supported by the work of scholars such as Ursula Franklin (1990) who assert that language reveals a society's values and priorities. The combination of RIM's corporate history, an examination of the company's promotional discourse, as well as the discourse from the popular media and scholars on the topic, brings together the major players that have contributed to the shaping and adaptation of this product in contemporary culture.
The combination of these focuses leads then to a summation that the BlackBerry is a reflection of neoliberal trends that emphasize increased efficiencies, which are now being transferred onto the personal sphere as the boundaries between work and the personal are collapsed in a bid for increased synergy in the "new economy." This position is in keeping with Sturken's argument that technologies emerge, rather than create, from a set of changing social imperatives (p.72). The blurring of boundaries between work and the personal has resulted in RIM reflexively positioning its newest product, the BlackBerry Pearl, as a tool for both spheres, resulting in a promotional strategy that professionalizes the personal.