Berrybites

From John Hagel’s site:

“JSB and I have been exposed to the dark side of … new technology. JSB has even coined a name for it – he calls it ‘Berrybite”, merging Blackberry with soundbite.

Both JSB and I have had experiences where documents we sent were read by people on a Blackberry or Treo. They weren’t long documents – basically the equivalent of two or three pages of text. The recipients were initially highly critical of the material. But, when we pressed them to read the documents again, they came back after reading them more carefully on a PC or in print form and apologized for their initial reactions. They said the material was excellent and they didn’t really understand why they had such a negative initial reaction.

Well, we think we know why initial reactions were so negative. The Blackberry or Treo is not conducive to a careful read – it encourages skimming. It also encourages people to find a quick way to capture what is in the document and then move on to the next message. As a result, people tend to try to fit these documents into familiar categories based on some key words rather than thinking deeply about the topic and absorbing new perspectives. It also doesn’t help that documents on these devices are typically accessed in environments with lots of distractions – meeting rooms, airports, automobiles, etc. – making it difficult to concentrate on the message at hand.”

Both Foe and myself were discussing this a while ago – she had a client who’s organisation was addicted to their crackberries; and in Nokia a lot of the management use communicators more than laptops due to their schedules. We have both experienced firsthand exactly what John Hagel and JSB (John Seely-Brown?) describe above.

Aside from the oft-mentioned ‘Constant Partial Attention’ that the thumbwheel fruit-machine fosters – Blackberries and other mobile email systems (anecdotally at least) seem to encourage ‘Seagull’-style management, a display of communication and ‘progress’ where in reality there is little.

Berrybites aren’t confined to work or email either – I remember Michael Kieslinger and Molly Steenson’s presentation to Etech 2004 about a group of SMS users arranging a social occasion. A plan was mooted by an individual to the group – something like 120 texts and 2 hours later – nothing about that original plan had changed.

As a non-Blackberry/push email user I have a morbid fascination with what their usage does to people and projects. Has the organisational atom of thought in corporations shrunk from a Powerpoint bullet to Berrybite?

We have a long history of studying the effects our intertwined tools and media have on the way we act and interact, but perhaps because what we call ’email’ pours seamlessly from container to container we imagine we don’t have to modify anything about our behaviour – that nothing about our relationship with that media has changed other than we can receive it anywhere.

First to solve this might not get rich, but they might have a less stressful life.

0 comments
  1. Abe said:

    I’ve actually read a couple books on my Treo and it certainly echos Hagel’s point, I can’t remember a thing from any of them. What’s interesting though is that the process of actually reading them is just about as enjoyable as reading the print. You don’t feel like you are missing out, but clearly the memory part of the brain is getting cut out of the loop. Maybe because you are using up so much brain power compensating for the low resolution? Didn’t IBM have some studies a few years ago showing a strong link between screen resolution and reading comprehension?

  2. Foe said:

    Probably the thing that I found most frustrating about communicating with people who use crackberries was the illusion it created for them of having done something. In my experience the kind of response you get is a ‘thanks for that’, ‘OK, I’m on it’ and then your email is unbolded and they don’t return to it. I hated that it made me repeat myself, re-send emails, continually follow up, all the time trying to guess a moment when they’d be at their desks rather than on the move with their blackberries.

    One good feature: the designers of the blackberry obviously know that the emails sent from them are worthless, so they all come with an automatically appended disclaimer along the lines of ‘sent from a Blackberry’.

  3. JamesB said:

    “Has the organisational atom of thought in corporations shrunk from a Powerpoint bullet to Berrybite?”. Good question. I think Foe’s point is spot on – there is an illusion similar to that with Powerpoint that the actual means of communication instills some meaning and it it doesn’t beyond an understanding of the context. The medium is the message [massage] and in the case of the Blackberry and powerpoint the message is either misleading or extraordinarily dull. The more I here anecdotal references like John’s the more I’m drawn to the work of McLuhan…

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  5. Patrick Au-Yeung said:

    I have attended meetings lately in the Silicon Valley where the crackberry addiction rate is perhaps the highest in the nation. In one meeting, 9 out of 10 people on the client side had the Sidekick in their hands, feverishly typing away as we were giving a presentation. This alone was not surprising given that this company is responsible for the device’s software. What was most disturbing was the absolute abscense of any manners or eqtiquette you would expect in a professional meeting. They would look up upon hearing a word they find interesting, then went right back into their text-messaging. Then during Q&A, one guy asked three questions in rapid succession (all of which pertained to topics we had already discussed in our presentation), then promptly went back to typing in his SK. After answering his questions in rather lengthy detail, the presenter (our Exec Creative Director) asked him whether or not we’ve addressed his concerns, he replied: “uh, more or less.” never once loosened his grip on his opium pipe.

    This was not the only incident, but by far the most disturbing. Has anyone else seen such desperate addiction? I feel like George Harrison upon arriving in Haight Ashbury in 1969, after hearing such wonderful vibes and spiritual enlightenment that was supposed to be happening, only to discover half the people were fucking crazy or addicted to drugs.

    Dude, the Bay Area sucks.

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