BBM Me: BlackBerries at South

By Justin Quinn
Published: March 2011

When senior Rebecca Shait received a BlackBerry for Chanukah, she cried.

This outburst of joy was followed by a series of screams and subsequent phone calls to friends, who picked up their BlackBerries and shared the excitement.

BlackBerry in hand, Shait has joined the group of more than 41 million worldwide Blackberry users.  Though consistently a phone of choice for many, holding nearly 15 percent of the world’s smartphone sales, BlackBerries are becoming an increasingly popular form of communication among students at South, particularly those in the senior class.

“I feel as though I’m one of the last people out of my friends who has gotten one,” Shait said. “I always see people on their BlackBerries, whether they are BBMing, playing Brickbreaker, or texting another person.”

As with most smartphones, the BlackBerry is not essential to a student’s education or daily life and now, though many high school students have BlackBerries, the phone wasn’t created for this purpose.

The Canadian-based company Research in Motion (RIM) has been producing BlackBerries since 1999, but its purpose and format has drastically changed since then. The first model was a simple two-way pager, intended for business use only. Over time, RIM further developed its capabilities to receive emails and eventually turned it into the technologically advance smartphone seen today.

Because of their capabilities, BlackBerries have long been the device of choice in the business world; many corporations still require employees to have them.

Over the past few years, however, there has been a shift in customer base as the demographic has grown to include a younger audience, evident in the number of users at South.

Senior Andrea Braver has been a BlackBerry user for about a year and a half, after getting her father’s old phone.

“For workers [like my dad], the phone serves as an electronic dog tag, in that companies have 24/7 access to their employees,” Braver said.  “Initially, when my dad generously lent me his old phone… the BlackBerry wasn’t popular yet. However, within six months, a lot of teens got them.”

Unlike Braver, who was unaware of the phone’s capabilities, many South seniors getting BlackBerries now are attracted to the convenient and useful features such as internet access, email, BlackBerry Messaging (BBM), applications, a full keyboard, and occasionally the calendar.

The businessperson stigma of the phone has been removed to reveal a modern phone attractive to many students.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of people have them, and people get really into BBMing and even the cases,” senior and non-BlackBerry user Shireen Pourbemani said. “They can be a little ‘culty’ because it is easier to contact people with BlackBerries [through BBM].”

Despite this, Pourbemani would get a BlackBerry if she had the opportunity.

“They’re very addicting and you can never go back.  I don’t want to say that I want one, but I secretly do.”

Though plentiful and useful, its features, apart from BBM, are not exclusive to the brand.  And though none of these extra features are vital, countless students continue to flock towards it.

Senior Shayna Sage has a total of 104 BBM contacts, 46 of whom are past and present South students and the rest of whom are camp friends.

“BlackBerries are useful because they allow us to stay in touch with foreign [camp] staff members throughout the school year,” Sage said.  “It also enables you to send sound bites and pictures even faster than before. Who wouldn’t want that?”

In addition to South students, celebrities and politicians from Madonna to Barack Obama have been spotted with BlackBerries, creating a prestigious status for the phone.  Twenty-year-old singer Sean Kingston even recorded a song with Soulja Boy and Teairra Mari called “BBM,” praising this popular feature.

Kingston took to his Twitter account to say, “If u got a BlackBerry, stand up rite now! This is yo’ anthem. Smash it. BBM me!”

Braver, who now sports a BlackBerry Touch, which is the newest model, vocalized a sentiment which stems from the status now attached to the brand.

“I decided, in order to keep up with the trend, I would buy the newest, coolest of them all,” Braver said, slyly smiling. “It’s all about staying on top.”

Smartphones users in general are on the rise.  According to the International Data Corporation, third Quarter smartphone sales in 2010 have risen 89.5 percent from third quarter sales in 2009. Although other smartphones like the iPhone and Android-operated devices are certainly popular, many South students still turn to the BlackBerry as the phone and its competitive market continue to grow.

“I prefer [BlackBerries] to the iPhone because touch screens are really hard to type on, and I prefer it to the Droid because the Droid has so many unnecessary features and is way too confusing,” Shait said.

Senior Ashan Singh recently chose to buy a BlackBerry after deliberating between this and the iPhone.  But he does not regret his decision at all.

“I really wanted a smartphone.  Period,” Singh said.  “And I realized I needed a keyboard so I chose my BlackBerry.” And while he mentioned the excessive nature of the phone, he noted that “it’s the cool thing to do.”

When purchasing a new phone, students are signed to a two-year contract, and as more people are swayed, the number of users increases even more.  Although the Blackberry does not present any unique capabilities other than BBMing, it has carved a cult status at South.  Users are locked into a commitment and wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Why would I choose another phone?” Sage said, looking up as her fingers click across her BlackBerry.

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