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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

BlackBerries come to their ‘end of life’

Once, I could not do my job without it. Now it rests in a drawer of other electronic devices that no longer work.
BlackBerries: One indispensable, now no longer needed or useful.

BlackBerry’s communication devices became part of my life in the 1990s when I required an instant email communication ability as a photojournalist working out of Washington.

In the beginning, it was a portable email device clipped to my belt or in my suit coat pocket with a monochrome screen, a “qwerty” keypad where we typed with our thumbs. Emails sent caused the machine to beep or vibrate when it arrived, and we could answer it immediately.

My BlackBerry became a necessary part of my profession, and newer models added telephone and “smartphone” features that worked worldwide.

On 9/11, most regular phones were overloaded or not working in both New York City and Washington. I was covering the terrorist plane crash into the Pentagon when my BlackBerry vibrated with an email from my wife, telling me that “I know where you are.” I typed back: “Really? How?” Her return said: “I just saw some of your wire photos from the Pentagon on CNN.”

With my BlackBerry, I could fire off a quick note to a source in the Pentagon or in the field in faraway places and, usually, have a quick reply. After the 2004 Presidential election, my last national assignment before retiring to become a “contact photojournalist” for media outlets, I was on a coast-to-coast “red-eye” flight back to Dulles Airport when my Blackberry sounded with an urgent message from a photo editor who wanted me to help some of the photos I sent before taking off.

I plugged one of United’s “air phones” into my laptop, connected to the server, and completed the edits to meet the deadlines. My seatmate, a DC lawyer returning from Seattle to Washington, DC, leaned over and said: “Remember when we used to get on planes to get away from shit like this?”

When I retired from trips to hotspots around the world after covering the U.S. entry into the war in Afghanistan in 2002-03, my trusty BlackBerry remained on my belt when we moved from Arlington, our home for 23 years, to Floyd County. I continued to use it until the new Apple iPhones began to provide better service and facilities and BlackBerry lost its edge in technology.

I always felt I could type faster on the BlackBerry than on a touch screen, but the iPhones provided more features and capabilities, especially in my profession, and they faded disappeared from the belts of many of us over the years. Now, according to a story in today’s Washington Post, the network that supports the once-indispensable device, will shut down for good on Tuesday.

Writes Taylor Telford in the Post:

The classic BlackBerry is being forced to retire.

A pioneer of on-the-go email and paragon of corporate connectedness, it reigned supreme in the days when physical keyboards had yet to yield to touch screens. But come Tuesday, the cellphone turned status symbol will become one more relic of a bygone era as the transition to 5G wireless technology grinds forward.

After its “end of life date,” as BlackBerry calls it, devices running on BlackBerry’s legacy operating systems and software “will no longer reliably function,” the company — which has since pivoted to enterprise software and cybersecurity — reminded users in a news release in late December. Old devices won’t be able to send a text message or dial 911, placing them firmly in the realm of the arcane, in the company of floppy disks and rotary phones.

As a new year begins, an old, trusted tool of not that long ago, disappears.