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OK, RIM. How about that 'public interest' audit?

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Class action

To begin with, Spencer could have pointed to the health implications of "always-on" networks.

What RIM has done is take the user experience of the modern Windows desktop - a blizzard of false alerts, real threats and needless distractions - and made it mobile. This device even buzzes to ensure you haven't missed a single pointless message, or a notification about a message, or an alert to tell you that an incoming notification is now overdue. Bzzz! Did you get that? Well, Bzzz! Here's another.

Bzzz!

As a consequence, researchers have discovered always on networks like RIM's are more harmful than Class C drugs, or secondhand smoke - and a lot less fun. That's because RIM, and companies like them, make electronic communications inescapable. Email addicts apparently experience "lethargy and an inability to focus", and suffer twice as much damage to their deductive facilities as marijuana smokers.

(I had a similar experience with Yahoo! Go! recently. It's like the BlackBerry network - always on! - but without the reliability, and with extra nagware.)

Then there's the consequential damage to the fabric of social and family life. Several medical faculties have opened up internet addiction treatment programmes - with "CrackBerry" addicts top of the list. Some doctors put the figure as high as 10 per cent of the population.

Always on networks create a pretty un-virtuous circle. Forty-seven per cent of webloggers say they blog for therapy. Then they need therapy to stop weblogging! Who thought of this racket?

(And we don't have time here to explore the debilitating effect of technology on literacy and numeracy.)

So instead of arguing they have some unique right to ignore the law, RIM and other purveyors of such needyware ought to be bracing themselves for a class action lawsuit.

And remember two more things to put RIM's bid for a unique position in the social strata in its proper perspective. File these both under "bad taste".

Never in thousands of hours of weasely anti-trust testimony did Microsoft ever deploy such an argument. Not once did Microsoft claim that "closing down Windows" would harm the public interest. Even though the consequences of ordering every PC in the United States to cease booting the Windows operating system would be immensely more disruptive - the repercussions being felt for at least, we reckon, several hours.

Secondly, some workers really do need instant access to information. Military personnel under fire, on-call medical staff, or the emergency services, for example. For its elevation of the white collar paper pusher into a role as exalted as that of the on-call emergency worker, RIM deserves particular contempt.

Judge Spencer missed an opportunity here. Judicial activism is frowned upon, but a wise judge would have ordered the BlackBerry network to close at weekends and for at least one work day a week.

You think this sounds crazy? We've got news for you. The real 'always on' lawsuits have yet to start. ®

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