by Thomas Wailgum

A Reality Check for BlackBerry Addicts and the Companies That Create Them

Mar 09, 20074 mins

With the news that a new BlackBerry rehab website had been launched in late February, we all were left wondering how long before we started seeing “Paris Hilton and her BlackBerry 8700 checked into rehab for an undisclosed ‘CrackBerry problem'” stories. (Like you wouldn’t click on that link?)

The founders of the new site,, claim to have the “Number One Site for BlackBerry Users and Abusers.” (As of March 9, says it has 873 registered BlackBerry users on its site. With more than 10 million potential abusers, there’s still plenty of work to do.) More on what the site offers: “BlackBerry users looking to indulge their inclinations or control their CrackBerry habits now have a website on which to find both a fix and a cure.”

For what it’s worth, I would first like to say that is a lot of fun and a well-timed business venture. It’s also emblematic of what makes the Web such a unique medium. Will it succeed? Who knows.

Second, let me say that any kind of debilitating human addiction — whether to alcohol, drugs, pornography, whatever — is not something to make light of. Those are some serious, serious problems.

That said, there has always been something that’s bugged me about the whole “CrackBerry addiction” epidemic that is supposably sweeping through the business world: Enterprises appear to bear no responsibility for creating a culture in which their employees become addicted to these devices.

Let me put this another way. Say you just took a job at a new company. On the first day, your boss comes into your office and announces that everyone in your department is going out to lunch and that you should come. At lunch, you notice that every single person is drinking alcohol. Every one. Naturally, you would most likely feel like you should have a drink too. And chances are you probably would. And then your boss and others invite you out after work for cocktails. And you go. And everyone is drinking more. And this happens every single day — at lunch, at meetings, at offsites, at after-work get togethers. What makes it so “easy,” of course, is that your boss and his boss are all there drinking too. It’s gotta be OK, then! Right?

I’m sure you can see where this is going — substitute a sleek BlackBerry for that sheik Martini. I’m no expert, but most all of us recognize the fact that peer behavior is one of the most powerful ways in which to influence individual behavior. And if a new employee sees that senior management not only encourages but insists on fostering a culture of “always on” reachability and accountability, then individual employee’s behavior (especially new employees) will reflect that.

A recent study from MIT’s Sloan School of Management that looked at the organizational dynamics of BlackBerry use found that senior management often establishes a BlackBerry use pattern that subordinates will naturally adopt, according an article in CIO. “If everyone in an organization has a BlackBerry, continuous connection becomes the norm,” said Wanda Orlikowski, in the article, who coauthored the study with fellow Sloan professor JoAnne Yates.

At a company they studied, they found that 90 percent of individuals said they felt some degree of compulsion in their BlackBerry use. Those employees checked their messages not only on evenings and weekends, but also “at church, at the gym, at the doctor’s office and even at social gatherings.” That compulsive behavior was all done despite the fact that their company didn’t actually require them to be on call, the study found. That’s some pretty powerful organizational influence.

Of course, you can’t blame the messenger, in this case the BlackBerry. It’s just a tool. Instead, we should blame the organization that creates an environment in which BlackBerry addiction is a way in which employees will climb the corporate ladder.

And just as alcoholics and druggies have to cope with the collateral damage that accompanies their addiction, so too will BlackBerry addicts, as their business associates, friends and family members are left to wonder why they are so dependent on that black device that they are cradling in their hands.