A Eulogy for the BlackBerry Classic, the People's Smartphone

From roadmen to businessmen, the BlackBerry served one and all!
08 July 2016, 12:00am

A BlackBerry Classic.

The BlackBerry, as a cultural prop, has served us all very well over the years. But now its swansong must be sung, and the en-buttoned incarnation of this great device is to be discontinued. The BlackBerry Classic, that small, square thing with a teeny-tiny little keyboard below it, the ultimate accessory of the evil man and woman, will be no more. I would say we hardly knew ye, BlackBerry Classic, but in many ways we knew ye all too well.

The BlackBerry was a signifier. Nobody really bought them; rather, they were bestowed. Were you important enough to receive one, you would. If the place you worked at demanded that you constantly, incessantly, endlessly be on call, you were given on of these black plastic companions. You would ignore the people in your company, ignore your friends at drinking time, ignore you family at engagements, because this thing was your life now. Before the dawn of the more ubiquitous smartphone addiction, the BlackBerry was the tipple of choice for those addicted to workahol.

Another email, another text, people clicking away. Click click click, that tiny little fucking keypad, click click click. You try and have a conversation, and it buzzes on the table. One more email, it must be answered. Click click click. The tiny scratch of those microscopic buttons rumbling away. Your friend would glance up at you, break a small smile, fingers and thumbs moving with muscle memory, then their eyes would slip back down to that fucking screen. Then they'd put it down. Then it'd ping and back into the cycle of limitless work you go. The machine meant you were entrusted with giving your life to something, depending on who and where you were at work. For the CEOs, it was merely a vessel to which your PA would forward all the important bits and bobs, like golf calendar dates and a randomised list of redundancies that you have to enforce.

When I say it's a great cultural prop, I mean that. It's featured in at least two of the best comedies of the last decade or so. Mark Corrigan getting his BlackBerry mugged from him in Peep Show, and the indignity of having to ask for it back in a woman's voice. Mark Corrigan, the archetype of the middle manager, going nowhere, a phone with his job on his weighing his pocket down like a pair of concrete shoes in a river of shit. And in The Thick of It, every political aide frantically glued to their phone, the cold bureaucracy mixed with the panic of human error, revelations of disaster all beaming through this innocuous slimline brick.

But eventually the BlackBerry was adopted by a very different part of society to the banker or the music industry professional or the aide or the PR or the PA. Young people, incapable of having phone contracts and tiring of the rigmarole of topping up credit, began to use BlackBerrys for their BlackBerry Messenger service. BlackBerry Messenger was the proto-iMessage, and ended up doing battle with it. But iPhones were out of the price range for a lot of kids, and BBM gave them a way to communicate without shelling out endless fivers at the corner shops.

It may seem a little silly to eulogise a fucking phone like this, but the BlackBerry really was significant, in a lot of ways. Business types will forever remember the heart-racing panic of fucking something up, and having the number next to their email envelope grow with smooth rapidity. The children of BBM will remember asking boys/ girls they fancy for their pin, and if they're lucky, getting it, clicking and clacking those godforsaken buttons into the night, lying in bed, cursing school, talking about music. It meant different things to wildly different people, and that's something to, at the very least, be appreciated.


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