Friday, February 10, 2012

Exploring BBM Culture & BlackBerry Addiction

Someone I know recently said (via BlackBerry status update) that BBM culture can easily be taught as a university course. I agree: the basic sociology of this relatively new phenomenon has so many levels that can be analyzed. This one innocent messaging system has become a standard. A habit. A daily routine. An addiction.

It's amazing how far cell phones have come, from everyone's first Nokia phone. Amazing how 5 years ago you were using your state-of-the-art flip phone, texting with 3 letters per one key, and impressed by your new camera. You had personalized ring tones for each friend, and would download songs to play when the phone rang. The flip phone was hype! Or what about the Razor! The Crazor! The Sidekick! And then phones kept getting smaller and smaller, and thinner, and were cutting edge. You changed your phone all the time, and had a wide range of options based on your personality and preferences. You would change your faceplates every now and then, and you were nice!

And then one day, somewhere around 2008-2009 I'd say, you discovered BlackBerry. You didn't want to bother with the iPhone, and you didn't want to give in to the hype, but you did. You didn't think you needed to check your email on your phone...but you still bought one. In fact, you didn't even get a data plan right just liked the accessible keys for texting, and the large screen. The calendar. Increased storage for music. You eventually gave in just because...everyone else seemed to have one and enjoy it, and they seemed practical.

The iPhone was too much work, and you weren't into Apple culture and apps, and waiting in line for upgrades. Sure, your BlackBerry rollerball was a problem, but you learned how to clean it. And it was bigger than that old phone, so you could actually hold it and not worry about snapping it. And then you added your email account and realized it was great to stay up-to-date on messages while on the road, instead of waiting until you got home or to work to check. And you felt like a real professional because up until then, only the true busy business people had need for a BlackBerry. But you were up to the times now. Emailing. Texting. Going on-line for little things here and there, taking great telephone pictures...and then came BBM.

Gone were the days of switching cell phone brands. Now there's only one option. Because once you started that BlackBerry journey, you didn't realize that there was no getting out. Email, Twitter, YouTube, AppWorld, and all other programs aside, BBM has taken on a life of its own!

BBM is a culture in itself. It has it's own social organization, customs and traditions, beliefs, behaviours, values, and language. It is like any other cultural group that is defined by a set of common practices, tools, and sustained by conformity.

It is a way of life!

PROFILE PIC - Forget Facebook albums, face-to-face interaction, or emailing pictures. Your profile pic can serve many purposes, depending on who you are and how you're feeling. It can be used to promote a party or event (works best when everyone on the team is down), and it can be used to join strangers across the globe by posting political images in a moment of "BBM unity." Within minutes. It can be used to show your friends and associates where you're at, how you look today, or used to pay hommage to a friend, fallen soldier, or favourite athlete/entertainer who's in the news at that moment. Some people change their pic once every week, if they remember. Others change it every few hours, when the mood hits them. Some people don't change it at all, and have the ominous "BBM silhouette" for a picture (mysterious and rebellious all at once)! Some leave profound messages of hope, strength, and change...others liven it up with some porn and miscellaneous ass shots stolen from the internet. When you're really upset, you give a middle finger or a black screen. When you're really happy you find the perfect image to reflect that mood. Your profile pic is your visual interpretation of your moment-to-moment vibe and activity. It is just the face of your personal BBM government.

STATUS UPDATE - Your update can either support the profile pic, or stand alone with its own message. It can be a list of your latest upcoming events (for the entreprenuerial BBM users), or a quote from your favourite intellect or singer. It can be an inside joke between you and your friends, or a cryptic subliminal message that you're sending to one specific individual (or a collective of individuals) that need to know how you feel...without knowing how you feel. Some people use it to make a statement, to crack two jokes, or simply just to entertain their other friends on BBM. The status update is the daily/hourly, or monthly declaration of where your cell phone head is at. Either you're into the ongoing communication...or you could give a shit. But your status is often a great indication of what side of the spectrum you fall on. It is a BBM social definition of yourself, often indirectly outlining your beliefs, and behaviours.

PING - Only the most annoying BBM users regularly resort to this method of alert. In fact, I do believe that excessive ping-ing should be immediate grounds for BBM dismissal, or the ever-dramatic "DELETE" from your list. The ping is BBMs way of telling someone, I know you're getting these messages, but hurry up and pay attention to me. It is a rule of behaviour in BBM society that thall shall not over-do the ping-ing.

BROADCAST MESSAGES - Also on an equal level of annoying-ness, the ever-popular purple broadcast message. You think someone has something really important to say to you....only to realize it's something they're saying to everyone, which (more often than not) might be better suited for email. Reminding your friends and family that Jesus loves them, and threatening re-sending against your spiritual well being...or even sending a joke that you swear is hilarious, and must share with everyone you know...immediately. There are times when the broadcast message is effective and entertaining...but it's often so effective and entertaining that you'll get the same exact message from half of your "friends" within minutes. From Scarborough to the West Indies to Florida, there are numerous people who all decide that you have to see the Jamaican radio show host tell the woman how to "quint it" (for example). Funny the first time...not so funny the next 7 times you receive the same link. A careful road to trod, these broadcast messages. Excessive use may also get you banned.

DELETING PEOPLE FROM BBM - The ultimate diss. Almost worse than deleting from Facebook or email. To delete from BBM is the electronic slap in the face, when your new enemy looks at their list and realizes someone is pissing. It's usually followed by a "I think I accidentally deleted you from my BBM" text message at which point you sigh in relief, realizing they may never know your true intentions. Sometimes you re-add them...most of the time, you force them to call you if they need you. A dramatic understanding, nontheless. Sometimes the people you delete in immediate anger/irritation are the most rewarding. A little thing, but a satisfying thing.

PROMOTIONS - Along the lines of broadcast messages, you have to know who the promoters on your list are, and expect that there'll be some promotion. Not horrible, especially if you are selective about the events you attend, and genuinely interested in what's going on. Not horrible if you like the promoters and appreciate their hard work. Definitely horrible if this is the only way they communicate, and they refuse to contact you for anything but the next party, event, or other notification. It's effective because "everyone" is on BBM and can get the word ASAP...but again, walks a fine line of having BBM for business...and having it for pleasure. Depending on your preference, it may not be a bad thing either way.

EMOTICONS - Who knew that 20-something tiny yellow faces could convey emotions and messages so strongly. Have you ever had a good stretch of a BBM conversation with just smiley faces alone? It's totally possible. And BlackBerry users are so in tune with the icons that there is always a perfect expression to throw in at the end of a conversation, or to soften the blow of a message that could otherwise misinterpreted. Thank goodness for the smiley face at the end. The "thumbs up" and the other symbols are great conversation enders...when you don't want to not respond...but you also don't have anything else to say. (Although a simple "K" can also do this as well.)

ACRONYMS - Speaking of individual letters, there are dozens of short-forms that BBM users resort to to express extreme emotions. Particularly when related to laughter. A regular "lol" is always standard, however adding a few more adjectives to your virtual laughter (which is rarely actually "real" laughter on the other end of the phone, by the way) also shows you JUST how much laughing you are pretending to do. It is BBM etiquette to respond to an "lol" with an "lol" (you can't be rude after all!) And it is also almost preferred at times to use the "SMH" or "DKM" or others to convey your feelings. Every now and then you'll get a long list of acronyms that are trying to get on. Sometimes they catch on, but usually they don't. LOL stands the test of time.

WHATS YOUR PIN? - You ever try to hide your BlackBerry when you're around another BlackBerry user for fear that they're going to ask you for your PIN...and you can't reasonably say no? You ever get asked for your PIN by a virtual stranger, and realize that you don't want them up in your mix, looking at your pictures and reading your statuses. You wouldn't ask someone "What's your phone number?" or "What's your email?" so blatantly...that's the kind of information you should wait to be offered. But somewhere in the BBM rules, it's "OK" to ask for someone's PIN because somehow it's less invasive, and less bold than asking for other methods of contact. It's also a major detour when someone's trying to holler and you and you don't want to give your phone/email address. "Add me" is like the polite I want to keep in contact with you, but not that badly. Some people are bold and give their PIN out on flyers, online, on the radio, and really don't mind having hundreds of friends. Others prefer to keep it intimate.

FILE SHARING - Awesome feature, because you can send songs, pictures, and other digital treats instantly. You don't have to wait to show someone your can just send it right away. You don't have to go home and upload and transfer a song or CD, you can download and listen, and share from the phone. Great tool to have and very practical.

Oh, the BlackBerry-isms. It's a network of like-minded individuals. Those who choose not to use the iPhone...or those who already have an iPhone but know the power of "Team BlackBerry" and keep a BlackBerry just to stay up-to-date of what's going on in the BBM world. It's a community in itself, and I "hear" that those without BBM are sometimes left in the dark on pictures, jokes, and a multitude of other information sharing that goes on in an average BBM day. iPhone has many things, but it may never have a messaging system to compare to BBM.

To explore all of the BBM behaviours and activities is a neverending task...but fascinating when you think about how one small tool has such a huge social impact. OR......maybe I'm sure the loonie one, and have written this dissertation on BBM-ness to justify and validate my own addictive behaviour. What can I say? Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. My name is Stacey....and I have to go because I just heard the phone notification, the red light is now flashing, and I'm pretty sure there's a very important message waiting for me that must be viewed (or secretly "not" viewed) immediately.

Please share any additional BBM rules, values, or behaviours with me in the comment section...

Written by Stacey Marie Robinson for Kya Publishing's "Urban Toronto Tales" blog.


  1. i try to stay away from the cellphone culture... and am minimal in use, with a prepaid cellphone. those things get a hold of u. i like being aware of my surroundings. ive seen pedestrians go from location to location all while looking at a phone

  2. Hi, just wanted to tell you, I enjoyed this post. It was
    practical. Keep on posting!