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For a While, They Are BlankBerries

Many of the high-tech communication devices are temporarily knocked out of service.

June 18, 2005|Alex Pham and Jon Healey | Times Staff Writers

Users of the popular BlackBerry e-mail devices often joke that they are addicted to their "CrackBerries." They got a taste of withdrawal Friday morning when the nationwide messaging network crashed.

Despite some grumbling, the chronically connected somehow managed to spend the morning without their little plastic friends.

An estimated 3 million subscribers send and receive e-mail messages using palm-sized BlackBerry devices manufactured by Research in Motion Ltd., a Canadian company that also routes wireless messages to and from the gadgets.

Research in Motion executives declined to say how many subscribers were affected or specify the outage's cause. But executives at wireless phone carriers said the problems -- which lasted up to four hours -- were on Research in Motion's end, not theirs. Three carriers, Cingular Wireless, T-Mobile and Nextel Communications Inc., reported outages. Spokesmen for Sprint Corp. and Verizon Wireless said their subscribers apparently were not affected.

The device, which first hit the market in 1999, has become a symbol of a culture leashed to electronics.

"You're sitting there trying to have a conversation, the BlackBerry vibrates and out it comes," said Van Baker, a consumer electronics analyst with Gartner Inc. "There's no such thing as an eight-hour workday anymore. It's 16 hours or whenever you're awake now, and BlackBerry facilitates that kind of always-available lifestyle."

Jeanne Meyer, a New York-based spokeswoman for EMI Group, is such a BlackBerry fiend that when she went skiing in Italy this year, she was "delighted to learn that the BlackBerry worked flawlessly on the chairlift."

Meyer said she wasn't fazed by Friday's outage because she was at her desk all morning.

And Recording Industry Assn. of America Chief Executive Mitch Bainwol, who uses his BlackBerry even when sitting in front of his computer, said he had become inured to such problems. "We have gaps pretty often -- either system related or travel related," Bainwol said in a message sent from his BlackBerry. "So I'm sadly somewhat conditioned to the sense of isolation that kicks in."

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