As I've confessed in this space before, I am a BlackBerry addict. My phone is my most valuable tool, my taskmaster, my friend. It wakes me in the morning, reminds me of every appointment and gig, records special moments in snapshots and video, runs three email accounts, challenges me in Scrabble, soothes me with my favorite music. And once in a while, it even makes a phone call.
I wasn't always this way. Five years ago, I laughed at cellphone junkies who constantly fiddled with their gadgets instead of engaging in the real, flesh-and-blood world. Ten years ago, when the first smartphones were introduced, I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to do more with their phones than talk.
I don't remember when I got my first cellphone. I do remember it was a sturdy Motorola flip phone with a retractable antenna. I felt a bit embarrassed whenever I used it, not because it had already become obsolete by the time I got it, but because it seemed pretentious to be carrying around my own phone. I mean, did I really think I was so important the world needed 24-hour access to me?
My first noncellular telephone was a Princess phone, every 'tweenage girl's dream. While regular phones were clunky black or beige boxes, the Princess was slim and sleek, with push-button numbers on the handpiece itself. And it came in pastel colors like baby blue and powderpuff pink. Of course, back then, having your own phone meant only that your parents allowed you to have an extension in your bedroom. My friend Tubby and I talked long into the night while we each lay in our beds, falling asleep with our phones still pressed to our faces. I'd wake up with an incessant beeping in my ear and a Princess crease across my cheek.
Before the Princess, I had to take all my calls in the kitchen. Mom would put out the egg timer, a three-minute hourglass. I got pretty good at flipping it over unnoticed at the two-thirds point and usually talked for seven or eight minutes before Mom cut me off.
Sometimes it was a neighbor who did the cutting. Remember party lines? Several households shared one telephone line, requiring a great deal of cooperation and discretion on everyone's part.
Our phone number then was 72121; my father's office was 321-635. Funny, I can still remember those, but have to look up my best friend's current number. That's because I never had those older numbers on speed dial. Speed dial to us meant the newfangled push-button, touch-tone phones. Although I found it strangely satisfying to hear the "tak-a-tak-a-tak-a-tak-a-tak" of the dial sliding back into place after each number.
So how did I, a sentimental fool who prefers books over browsing, become such a CrackBerry geek? Simple. I'm a sentimental fool.
In March 2007, my husband Barry and I went on a weeklong trip to Phoenix. It was the first time we'd both be away from our mom-and-pop radio station for that long, and Barry insisted that I get a smartphone for communication and calendar ease. Reluctantly, I got a Pearl - sort of a junior BlackBerry. Virgo that I am, I did enjoy entering 100 email addresses and phone numbers, but generally the darn thing intimidated me.
The night before we were to return home, Barry suddenly, unexpectedly fell ill and was comatose for nearly two weeks before he succumbed. During those 12 days, my BlackBerry Pearl became my lifeline to Maui. Cellphones didn't work inside the ICU, but I could write emails and send them during my breaks outside. I could conduct business, if not as usual, at least as needed. Most importantly, I could communicate with family and friends en masse and in detail. No tearful, hurried phone calls; instead, I sat at my husband's bedside, holding his hand in my right hand and typing with my left thumb. The Pearl has only the standard numeric keypad; typing text is tedious and time-consuming. But I found it relaxing, and I had hours to spare, so I wrote lengthy accounts, poured my heart out through my thumb. Dozens of people replied with aloha, and I read each message aloud to Barry. I know he heard every comforting word.
Barry died 3,000 miles away from home, but the sentiments and spirit of his Maui ohana were in the room with him. I left Phoenix with a new appreciation for technology and an emotional attachment to my newfangled gadget.
Since then I've graduated to the full-on BlackBerry; just picked up my third one last Sunday. But I still have my Pearl, with all those loving messages stored inside. What can I say? I'm a sentimental fool, addicted to love. And my BlackBerry.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.