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Published: 2008-03-26

Going Cold Turkey Without My BlackBerry: The Horror!



(November 13, 2007) - Typically, this column seeks to bring you up to date with respect to cutting edge issues where the law and technology intersect.

This week, however, I need to write about dependence and addiction. No, I am not talking about alcohol or illegal drugs. Instead, I am addressing something much more pervasive - personal digital assistant (PDA) addiction.

When I first started practicing law, memory cards in typewriters were the next big thing. No longer was white-out needed. Some of you reading this probably are young enough not to even know what I am talking about.

The next thing you know, some legal secretaries actually had pre-historic computers on their desks, but this luxury was not afforded to the attorneys for whom they worked.

Ah, and then there was the facsimile revolution. You knew something was extremely important and urgent when a legal assistant would run down the hall to your office yelling "you have a fax!"

Time marched on, and along the way attorneys themselves began to have computers on their own desks. Yes, attorneys learned to do their own word processing. Miracle of miracles. But portable communications devices still were on the horizon.

I recall one of my first trials in the late-1980s. The senior partner of our firm was very proud of his "portable" telephone. The phone, its battery and all of its gear literally took up an entire briefcase devoted to this heavy mess. Instead of dealing with such a technological "advance," I was content to use the pay phone in the courthouse.

Desktop computers for attorneys became more interesting once the Internet age started to unfold. Who can dispute the ease and convenience of email?

Yet, attorneys still were tethered to their desks.

Then the Palm Pilot and similar devices entered the scene, and while originally not connected wirelessly to anything else, they allowed attorneys to store and access needed information in a handy, small place. Who can forget the rapture of learning the odd symbols needed to write on a Palm Pilot with its stylus?!

We then move closer to the present. Portable phones truly became portable and reception improved. PDAs became wireless, and attorneys were unshackled from their desks, having the ability to communicate electronically from practically any location.

Today, technologies have converged and improved to the point that in one PDA as small as a pack of cards, one can send and receive email, analyze and work with document attachments, make and receive phone calls, access sites on the World Wide Web, make purchases and download materials from the Internet, take, send and receive photographs and videos, listen to music, watch movies, etc.

It is no wonder then that with all of this magic, practically wherever you go, people cannot carry on for very long without reflexively turning their attention to their PDAs. It does not matter if you are at work, at a meeting, in a shopping center, outside, on a train, plane or automobile, or even at home.

This point was made abundantly plain to me one week ago. Why? Because the scroll button on my BlackBerry broke (from overuse, I am convinced), making the unit unable to function. No problem, I thought - I will call my law firm's information services department, and I will have a new one the next day.

I instead was told that an order had been made for a number of new BlackBerrys, and the order would arrive in more than a week. "Sure, fine," I reacted, "I can do without for such a short period of time."

Well . . . I was wrong. It was like a limb had been detached. While a functioning PDA was gone, I still could sense having one. At every down moment, I kept reaching instinctively for the phantom BlackBerry. No longer could I fill every second with the instant gratification of stimulus.

I could have simply slowed down and smelled the roses for a week, living life the way I use to do before having the world in my pocket. However, while it is true that it is annoying that people constantly are turning inward into their devices in their effort to look outward, I really do appreciate the freedom afforded by my BlackBerry.

Without the Blackberry, I once again was stuck at my desk and was missing out on other parts of my life. With the BlackBerry, I am able to go to my kids' volleyball matches and Irish stepdancing competitions. True, I do tend to use my Blackberry when there or lulls, but at least having the device allows me to be out of the office to attend these events while not falling behind.

So, long story short, just like in the 1980s there was the song "I Want My MTV," I called our IS department again and proclaimed "I Want My Blackberry." Fortunately, they accommodated me, and a super version, the Curve, showed up pronto, just before I suffered severe PDA withdrawal symptoms.

Eric Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP (http://www.duanemorris.com) where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes.  His Web site is http://www.sinrodlaw.com and he can be reached at ejsinrod@duanemorris.com.  To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please send an email to him with Subscribe in the Subject line.

This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.