by Al Sacco

BlackBerry Addiction and You: The Detox Challenge

Feb 22, 20086 mins

We’ve all heard the expression “BlackBerry Addiction.” CrackBerry is a common word nowadays. But more often than not, these terms are used in humorous contexts and not to describe real issues that seriously affect people and their loved ones. For many of us, “quitting” our BlackBerrys or smartphones, or simply leaving them at work once in a while, isn’t even a consideration. And that’s really not good.

BlackBerry Curve 8320

A few things happened this week that got me mulling the subject. First of all, I found myself in a BlackBerry-related skirmish after my girlfriend had to ask—and eventually—tell me to stop @#$%$#@ playing with myself three separate times while we were watching American Gangster. I’m usually good about keeping my smartphone in my pocket or on a distant shelf during non-working hours, but for some reason that night I kept subconsciously picking it up to check mail or my Viigo RSS reader. Not even Denzel and Russell shooting up the celluloid could keep my attention away from my BlackBerry.

Others have jokingly suggested in the past that my affinity for what I’ve come to think of as my little electronic Swiss Army knife has bloomed into an undesirable habit. (“You’d better be careful with that thing. You don’t want to turn into one of those people,” my brother warned recently.) But this was the first time it occurred to me that I might have a problem. And you know what They say: If you’re asking yourself if you have a problem, you probably do.

Sane Canadians. Crazy Hotels?

Then I came across an article on the website of Canadian television broadcaster CTV about how Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), a government agency, has issued a directive to its employees ordering them to cease BlackBerry use—at least for work purposes—overnight, during weekends and on holidays because they’re throwing off staffers’ work/life balance. The department’s Deputy Minister Richard Fadden also wants to ban the Research In Motion devices from meetings—goodbye BlackBerry buzz. Apparently Ontario’s Premier Dalton McGuinty has already barred BlackBerrys from his meetings.

Finally, I received a message on my BlackBerry with the subject line “Sheraton Chicago Cracks Down on Crackberries with BlackBerry Detox Challenge.” This immediately piqued my interest, and I decided to speak with the hotel staff about the program. Rick Ueno, general manager of the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers and a “former BlackBerry addict,” told me that roughly two years ago he realized his BlackBerry use was getting out of hand. He decided to do something about it.

“If you really get addicted the way I was, it’s a problem,” Ueno says. “I would wake up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water and have to check my messages. I’d check [the BlackBerry] at traffic lights and everywhere else.”

So he decided to retire his device and, in his words, go cold turkey. (Ueno says that’s the only way to quit.) It wasn’t easy at first, but he soon realized that he could be more productive without a BlackBerry (using his laptop to check for e-mail instead). This way, he spends more face time with customers instead of being tethered to a handheld.

“[The BlackBerry] was stressing me out. I’m a hell of a lot more creative now,” Ueno said. “I felt like that’s all I used to do, e-mail all day, as opposed to working on customer connections. I feel a lot better without it.”

BlackBerry-less in Chicago

The idea for the hotel’s BlackBerry Check-In program was born out of Ueno’s desire to share his newfound freedom with others. He promised hotel perks, like room upgrades, to anyone who could surrender their BlackBerry or other smartphone during stays at his hotel, and he got the word out through his hotel concierges and literature placed in guest rooms.

The idea was to make the guests realize the benefits of going without their BlackBerrys and to show them it’s not as hard as one might think. Only two people turned over their devices to hotel staff during the first year and a half of the program. Ueno thinks this had little to do with concerns over lost or stolen devices, as the hotel’s safety deposit boxes are secure and insured, and everything to do with a fear of separation from the devices.

Ueno decided to launch a follow up program to the hotel’s first initiative: The BlackBerry Detox Challenge. This time around, Ueno is offering a free return three-night stay at the hotel and dinner for two at its steak house to the first person to lock up their BlackBerry for two full days. In addition, the next 25 guests to turn over their smartphones will get immediate room upgrades, according to Ueno. Other participants will get free walking maps of Chicago in exchange to entice them to get out and see the city.

The challenge was rolled out around Valentine’s Day and on Feb. 20 a guest turned over his device. It remains to be seen whether or not the guest will make it through the full 48 hours.

What to Do?

Back to my own BlackBerry obsession. I can’t help but get angry at the thought of someone trying to tell me when I can or can’t use my device, even if it’s only outside working hours. Some of the folks interviewed for the CTV article disagreed, however, and appreciated the fact that the CIC was thinking about the effects of constant BlackBerry use on employees’ families.

I don’t think it would be that hard for me to turn over my BlackBerry for two days, especially if I get a hotel room upgrade. I also don’t think banning the use of BlackBerrys in meetings is such a bad idea. I can’t stand the way they make Polycoms and other speaker phones hum, and you can always get up and leave for a minute if you really need to check your messages or make a call.

What do you think? Are you a BlackBerry or smartphone addict? And do you think businesses or organizations like CIC should attempt to govern your smartphone use? Should organizations provide some form of best practices for healthy BlackBerry use?

I’m all ears…