That's the question that both Alec Saunders and Ars Technica ask in regard to a news release out of "Digital Life America" entitled "BlackBerry Backlash? Americans Split on 'Always On' Culture" (PDF). The release, timed to coincide with the 3GSM event in Barcelona last week, covers some of the group's research and includes this:
- 33% agreed with the statement “devices like BlackBerry chain you to work more than they liberate you.” 34% were neutral and the balance, 34%, disagreed.
- Surprisingly, among those who own a BlackBerry or a similar device, the results were not all that different: 34% agreed with the statement, 37% disagreed and 29% were neutral.
The news release went on to highlight other stats that BlackBerry owners do in fact work longer hours and have higher incomes... but both of these are kind of "duh!" statements to me. Look at who are typically the ones with BB devices in any company (i.e. management, executives). When was the last time any of us in those job roles (at most North American companies) worked a 40-hour week? (I think I actually might have in January, but that was because we had a vacation day.)
As a BlackBerry user, I have to say that I'm in the 37% who disagree with the statement, i.e. for me the device is a tremendous liberating device. That wasn't my initial thought. I resisted requesting one for a couple of years when peers were doing so. I watched some folks get into BB-driven email wars at 10pm on a Saturday night and just said "Don't those folks have a life?" and "Why would anyone want to be that accessible?"
However, once I started using it, I rapidly flipped the other way. For me, it allows me to be connected wherever I want to - should I choose to do so! And I think that's really the key. As Mark Evans writes, it really is about how you use it and how to achieve that work/life balance. For me, the primary reason I got a BB was for travelling where it has proved to be incredibly useful. I can't even begin to count the number of airports I've been stuck in where having ready access to email was useful and in some cases necessary.
Even locally, there are too many times to count when it proved to be useful. I was driving home one morning from dropping our daughter off at school and thinking about the things I had to do as the morning got underway when one of the warning lights on our car went on. Since I was about to go by the car dealership, I pulled in and had them check it out. I just went to the waiting area and used the BB to work through email. It gave me the freedom to do something like that. And that freedom does indeed help with my own work/life balance... but you do need to exercise that restraint and not let it interfere with non-work time.
At the end of the day, the BlackBerry and other devices are tools that can be either liberating or enslaving. It's all really in how you choose to use them. (Or, I suppose, are required to use them... I could see some managers out there expecting/requiring employees to always be available.)
P.S. Sometime, though, I'll write the counterpoint argument about how absolutely annoying it is as a presenter when you have a room full of people surreptitiously (or not) sucked into their email...