David Usborne: Our Man In New York

Just say no to the addictive gadgets that rule our lives
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The Independent Online

I have never suffered gadget envy. I belong to the minority of subway riders not wired to iPods. I can no more boast owning a flat-screen TV than I can a flat stomach.

I am tempted by ads for the special edition jogger's iPod that communicates with a little sensor in the sole of your shoe. It is meant to give the runner encouragement, whispering data about your pace and pulse. But mine would yell at me and call me a fat loser.

Those BlackBerries are natty machines, of course, with their little keyboards for exchanging e-mails on the run. Never mind that you need fingers daintier than needles actually to type on them. And what compels people to name these toys after foods and fruits? Have you seen that new mobile phone that can download Madonna faster than you can speed-dial your mother? It is called The Chocolate.

The real stuff is addictive and I could never love my mobile phone that much. On the other hand, you have probably heard the nickname for the BlackBerry - the CrackBerry, on account of there being people crazy enough to get so hooked on using the things their lives fall apart. They seem furtive and anxious, always looking away. You're in the middle of a good story and they are incessantly sneaking looks at the screen in their palms to see what emails they may be missing.

One day, the CrackBerry addicts are going to rebel. They could sue the manufacturers, but they are in Canada so that could be tricky. However, they can sue the pushers. Professor Gayle Porter of Rutgers University in New Jersey has a theory about CrackBerries. Most of the addicts, she suggests, didn't want the things in the first place. Their bosses wanted them to have them.

Corporate America is obsessed with what they call productivity, which is code for bleeding every ounce of energy from their workers so they don't have to employ so many. They give us CrackBerries so they can make us work even when we are at home or on the beach. And like dupes, we play along because we are terrified someone even more stupid than ourselves will play the game better. Why didn't you send me that 300-page document at midnight? That's why I gave you the CrackBerry. You're fired!

No one has sued yet, but Professor Porter insists it's only a matter of time. "These people who can't keep it within any reasonable parameters ... at some point may say, 'My life is not all that great. How did this happen? Who can I blame for this?'," she said.

Last week, Americans celebrated Labour Day, a holiday for pondering the quality of our working lives. Labour Day was born in September 1882, when 10,000 workers marched down Broadway chanting, "Eight Hours For Work, Eight Hours For Rest, Eight Hours For Recreation". In the US, they have forgotten that eight-hour formula. A study by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, found Americans worked more hours a week than anyone else in the industrialised world and on average took 23 days off each year, including holidays and bank holidays.

Own a CrackBerry and your boss will have control over your every waking and sleeping hour. So, if you own one, sue. If you don't, great. But beware even of the Chocolate. It's a gateway technology. Just say no.