On Being “The Girl with the Blackberry”

A personal essay by Madison Jones

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by Julianna Blacey

“But March became May, and May became August, and a year later, I am still saddled with the BlackBerry. It is less of a pain at this point and more just an extension of my personality. It is quirky, and weird, and funny.”

It is a Tuesday night, September 12th, around 10:00pm. I am sitting in a near-empty Frostbites with my dad and his co-worker, Tom. Tom is sitting at a different table, so my father and I can have time together, he says. We are eating frozen sorbets, and I am showing him the many (many) defects of my BlackBerry Torch.

Yes, you read that correctly–it is 2017 and I have, for some reason, a BlackBerry Torch.

While the height of technology when they appeared in 2010, BlackBerry Torches (and BlackBerries of any kind) are now edging on artifact status. Having a BlackBerry is definitely unique to most, and downright pathetic to some. Nevertheless, I have one.

Or at least, I do for now. The purpose of this late-night meeting at a Frostbites is to discuss my upgrade, which will be a week from this date. I am getting a Samsung Galaxy of some sort, but the name is forgettable, like the phone itself.

For me, the trade is bittersweet. I got the BlackBerry on New Year’s Day 2016, after my old phone, a Samsung Galaxy III Mini, malfunctioned and died a few days prior. The BlackBerry was supposed to be my placeholder until we got our upgrades in March. I accepted the BlackBerry with chagrin, and, in fact, despised it, with its slide-up keyboard and clock that for some reason, insisted it was 2056.

But March became May, and May became August, and a year later, I am still saddled with the BlackBerry. It is less of a pain at this point and more just an extension of my personality. It is quirky, and weird, and funny. People ask me about it. It sets me apart, in a world of sleek iPhones and shiny Androids.

At this point, the upgrade is less for stylistic reasons and more out of necessity– like an old dog, I am worried about my BlackBerry’s health, and I am uncertain it will go on for much longer.

“The messages are out of order now,”  I say, scrolling up and down through my inbox, showing a message that came in at 8:23 pm that is at the top of the thread for some reason, while the most recent message, at 9:58 is further below it. “I have two pictures saved, and it tells me I’m out of space. Also, this button is clearly missing,” I say, showing him the button at the bottom of the screen that should contain the “back arrow” and “end call” buttons. The list goes on and on. Tom joins us at our table, prompted by my father. As we further dissect the BlackBerry’s ailments, Tom makes a comment: “That’s embarrassing.”

Although this jeer is toward my father, for making me use this monstrosity for as long as he has, the comment hits me like a slap to the face. Embarrassing? Although we were literally JUST talking about what was wrong with my phone, I am offended that someone would make such harsh comments about my little device. I feel myself about to burst into tears.

I jump to its defense. “I know it’s embarrassing, but I love this phone,” I say. “It’s worked for so long, and only recently started malfunctioning. Plus, it’s different,” I add, which is what it all boils down to. “No one else has a phone like this.”

It is in this moment that my alliance fully manifests. Come to think of it, I have never loved the BlackBerry exactly, but I have a dependence on it. It means something to me.

“In a world full of iPhone and a smattering of Samsung, my BlackBerry is an oddity. It is not a commonplace occurrence, like finding a sand dollar on the beach, or a four-leaf clover in blades of grass.”

In a world full of iPhone and a smattering of Samsung, my BlackBerry is an oddity. It is not a commonplace occurrence, like finding a sand dollar on the beach, or a four-leaf clover in blades of grass. It is inconvenient for almost everyone involved—it sends group chats to me in seven different message threads, and when I reply, it puts MY response in a separate thread to everyone receiving it.

It can take good pictures, if the lighting is absolutely perfect, but not in even slightly dim settings. It has no front-facing camera, so selfies are out of the question. It can download no apps created past 2011, so the only ones installed are Twitter and an expired Facebook app, neither of which I use very often.

But like the sand dollar on the beach, it is rare, and that is where the value lies. In a world of individuals striving to be different, to be unique, the BlackBerry is just that. It keeps me grounded. It doesn’t allow me to look down on other people, because I know people have done the same to me because of it. It has showed me who actually wants to spend time with me, based on the unglamorous nature of my phone. It prevents me from being distracted, due to the apps (or lack thereof) it holds. I find myself more present and more observant; more aware and more involved in what’s happening around me.

“here I am! This is exactly who I am, and I have no plans to change for you, or for anyone else”

In all my insecurities of being wanted and noticed and loved, my BlackBerry is what screams, “here I am! This is exactly who I am, and I have no plans to change for you, or for anyone else” when I feel I am too afraid to fully be myself. When I am scared to be loud, and quirky, and goofy, my BlackBerry is just that, and more–obtrusive, interesting, different.

Owning the BlackBerry has, in some cheesy way, helped me grow into who I am today. It has taught me what attitudes and comments I should tolerate, but not accept; it has taught me who I can call my “friends;” it has kept me grounded, kept me humble, allowed me to be intentional. It has allowed me to express myself how I always wanted but never knew—as different, and quirky, and unique.

Tom doesn’t know any of this, of course; Tom hasn’t had a BlackBerry for a year and nine months. It is not his fault that he doesn’t know any of this, and given the circumstances, that I am meeting up with my father, who is only here for one night, to discuss my failing phone, Tom can only assume that I am hindered by the outdated technology. I back down from my small fight, aware that I am the only one who knows I won. Tom says something, but I am not listening. I am looking at my BlackBerry.

While it has not been convenient for anyone; while it has deleted my messages every time it restarts (which is often, due to its poor battery life), I know I will miss the BlackBerry, but I also know what I will take from it with me: the countless memories of it. And with it, the appreciation I have for being different, the awareness it provides me, but more than anything, the greater sense of self it gave me, allowing me to fully be who I am, with no apologies.

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