OK, RIM. How about that 'public interest' audit?
We demand Always On Justice
Opinion No one expects advertising to represent anything other than a glossy fantasy, but a TV campaign now running in the United States ought to win some kind of award for its disconnection with reality.
At the climax of this big budget 30 second spectacular, a white collar executive hands a female employee - presumably a new starter - a Windows Treo, with the promise that, "now your office is with you everywhere. How does it look?"
Instead of replying the only way one possibly could - by hurling herself through the nearest window - she mumbles something about it looking "pretty good".
The Stateside remake of Ricky Gervais's The Office has outlived the original premise - it's now into its third series - which tells us that white collar America is acutely aware of the demands and drawbacks of office life. So the advertiser's conceit that we want to take these psychoses into the most private corners of our lives is out of joint.
To the dismay of technology pushers, the public's enthusiasm for such intrusive technology is vanishing. More than 90 per cent of Britons surveyed recently said they were reluctant to adopt Wi-Fi wireless Ethernet because they dread the encroachment of work life into private time. When your office is "with you everywhere", even your family time doesn't really belong to you anymore - it's simply leased back to you through the generosity of a merciful employer. But if Toshiba, which sponsored this survey, can face up to this, why can't Verizon? Or Research In Motion?
Ten days ago, Research In Motion (RIM) made one of the most pathetic and contemptible defenses ever heard before a court of law.
Begging the Judge not to close down its proprietary BlackBerry email network, RIM played what was described as a "public interest" defense. RIM argued that its "always-on" email service played such a "crucial role" (its words) in the business of mammon and government, that irrespective of the merits of its case, the ultimate sanction of closing down its network must not be countenanced.
Judge Spencer wasn't impressed.
"You say there will be a catastrophic effect, and Western civilization will be shaken," he observed sarcastically.
RIM even mocked its opponent NTP for failing to provide a "public interest" defense of its own. Well, now that the deal is done, The Register must step into the breach. For if RIM can play the "public interest" card in keeping its network open - why can't the public respond in kind and highlight the drawbacks of such socially harmful technology, which is anything but in the public interest?
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.
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. ®