Encounter With A BlackBerry Babe

What’s your BB pin?”, she asked conceitedly, raising her BlackBerry screen-glazed eyes. Her fake Yankee accent was drowned by rancorous voices and the din of the heavy metal music blaring from the Hi-fi speakers of the high-end nightclub in the heart of Victoria Island, Lagos. Even when she was just sitting across the table as we both share a drink, I could barely hear her.

Just as I could not make any sense out of our conversation in the entire time we spent together that evening. To add to my misery even now as I reflect on my experience that night, it is difficult to tell if my inability to understand my young female guest was due to her contrived foreign accent or the frequent interruptions from her “pinging” and the instant messages that kept coming into her BlackBerry phone.

Her obsessive romance with her phone, which repeatedly came in the way of our acquaintance, can be likened to having a conversation with the deaf. So, I had proceeded to ignore this new question; one of the many she had asked, while she took intermittent pauses, with the usual vacant look, from her dialogue with her imaginary phone character, intent on ruining my evening.

I was going to treat her new enquiry like a rhetorical question; but leaning close to me, she asked the question again, insisting on an answer. Her persistent question about my BlackBerry status threw me off balance for a moment.

But when I recovered, my response was quick and brusque, “I don’t use a BlackBerry” Her reaction was immediate. The shock in her eyes was unmistakable. Her unspoken expression was; how would you not have a BlackBerry in this age and time? Then, she seemed to switch off completely. Her expression became distant.  From that moment, each time we manage to find to something to talk about, she would look past me, as if addressing a phantom.

I was amused by it all.

I had met the restless 20-something university belle some hours earlier in the company of my young cousin. And because it was a Friday night, we all ended up in one of those nightclubs on Victoria Island where you will have to spend some nervous moments scrutinising the menu.

I was immediately struck by my female guest almost compulsive attraction to her BlackBerry phone. All through our conversation that night, she stayed glued to it. Her fingers tapped furiously at the tiny buttons on the keypad. She was a sight to behold. Her addiction, her obsession, became a spectacle. As she tapped frantically on the tiny keypads, she would pause occasionally, a frown appearing on her brow. At another time, she would laugh out hysterically, rocking back and forth on the chair with a loud yell. People turned to look. She hardly noticed, or did not care.  When the waiter appeared to take our order, she was not listening. She was completely oblivious of the happenings around her.  As soon as she realised I was not a BlackBerry phone user, our conversation seemed to freeze out. I became another statistic, another face in the crowd.

But I had it coming.

Long after the BlackBerry phone made its classy foray into the telephone consciousness of the upwardly mobile, I had been indifferent to its ability to quickly transform one’s status symbol; or doesn’t it? I have never taken myself seriously. For example, many years after Nokia 3310 became embarrassingly outdated, I had carried mine with pomp.

Recently, I walked into one of the mobile telephone shops, just as I had done in the last few years, and each time, I had come out with my wallet intact. I have never been able to justify the reason why I should spend so much money on any hand-held device. Despite the craze that followed the introduction of the BlackBerry and the iPhones, androids and iPads of this world, I have always considered them as passing fads for those who find them as status symbols.

For example, a majority of young Nigerians who carry these phones around hardly maximise the use of the features that come with them. But I guess it is fashionable to be seen with the most expensive phone in town. What, for example, are the unique features of a BB, aside from instant messaging, that make them a-must-have other than the status symbol that goes with lugging it around?

Okay, maybe it is useful for folks who have loads of emails to answer per second. Otherwise, what is the point of a young person barely 17, paying monthly surcharges just for chatting, tweeting and Facebooking? Or does it have to do with the good feeling of owning a BB? Ok, you may say it’s cool to tweet, Facebook and ping at the same time. But what makes them desirable apart from these features? Are there no other phones performing the same functions?

My grouse with these new mobile phones is the frequency at which new models of the same phone are released into the mobile telephone market by the manufacturers. As soon as you buy a new phone, at the blink of an eye, another newer model with supposedly superior features is released into the market. In less than a month, your new phone suddenly becomes the older version of the new one. And the cycle continues. What phone fashionistas fail to realise is that although the new model may appear sleekier than the ones they have, in reality, the manufacturers have only added a feature or two to make them the new model of the old one.

One feature of a BlackBerry phone which makes it attractive to users, especially young people, is the instant message feature, popularly known as “pinging”. Now that comes with its own hazard. Recently, careless and indiscriminate pinging has become fatal. Inside a Lagos bus, I sat with a guy who ensured that his BlackBerry was conspicuously angled in a position where everybody could see it. He was barely 16. My young cousin told me that in students’ parties on campus (even secondary schools), you will be “gated” without possessing the most expensive type of BlackBerry!

Now the BlackBerry craze has claimed its first casualty.

In Ajah, Lagos, a girl chatting passionately while crossing the road was knocked down recently. In Ogun State, it was reported by The PUNCH recently that a youth corps member, one Egbe Ogbu, lost his life while pinging in the middle of the road — I mean the guy simply committed suicide. In the report, a learner driver was said to have knocked down the guy as he crossed the road while pinging. He was chatting on his BB that he did not realise the danger to his life. The statement by the driver was shocking and revealing of the danger this BB crazy posed to users. She said: “Mr. Ogbu was busy pinging on the road; I did not know when he got in front of my car.’’

Now, who do we blame? The corps member or the driver?

Have you also noticed how BB users treat their phones as companion? How many times have you been with a BB user and you have felt like punching them in the face? I mean, you are in this conversation with a friend and they are pinging away, ignoring you in the process. What could be more annoying? So, you can imagine how I felt when I became the latest casualty the other day. I was simply “dumped” for not being able to provide my BB pin. Now, I am thinking of getting a BlackBerry, if only to keep up with the Joneses.


 Bayo Olopohunda writes for Punch