The value of that RIM outage

One good thing came out of last week’s RIM outage. According to a report in “The National” newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, deaths of young men who insist on reading email on their BlackBerry devices dropped off while the service was unavailable. According to the police, "Accidents were reduced by 40 per cent and the fact that BlackBerry services were down definitely contributed to that."

It’s such a relief to learn that a failure in technology has had such a marvellous side-effect. Or maybe not. Perhaps the true social advantage delivered through BlackBerry and other mobile devices is the ability for individuals to self-select themselves to be removed from the gene pool through horrible accidents that occur when they read email. Seriously, it’s a sad indicator of modern life that email has become so important that the arrival of a new message forces people to take their eyes off the road to read and then perhaps compose a response to incoming messages. I’m sure that it is extremely upsetting for families to hear that someone has driven into a concrete lamp-post or other fixed object simply because they had to read new email. And even more upsetting if the driver killed someone else while their eyes were fixed on a screen.

Hopefully last week’s RIM outage helped some to understand that they can survive without frequent updates, that life continues without email, and that a lot of what arrives into inboxes is banal rubbish that fills servers, networks, and disks. We’re all guilty of contributing to the dross that travels through email servers today.

Despite what their senders and recipients say, very few messages are actually important enough to warrant immediate attention. Consider the average batch that arrives daily. It probably contains some service messages such as out of office messages, a fair smattering of junk mail sent by web sites like LinkedIn.com to let you know that so-and-so has moved jobs, possibly some internal company announcements to tell you essential facts such as the name of the new Vice President of Marketing, and even some messages from different members of your family to say that a distant cousin has just moved to a new part of the country. All worthy information but not something that you’d want to crash your car over.

The remainder of your Inbox might receive messages that contain slightly more important information. At least, you’d hope so. But after you filter out various acknowledgements and other random chit-chat, you might be left with a small subset of messages that deserve timely attention. And in that set, even messages that inform you about an impending emergency or that you’ve just been fired do not deserve an attempt to commit vehicular suicide on your part.

The problem with email is that it’s become a bit like a drug for the modern office worker that we are introduced to soon after we take up a job. Mobile devices are the Pez dispensers of the email world. The same is true of Facebook and Twitter updates.And  when you step back and take stock, it’s all so sad. Take the word of a recovering addict and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of turning your iPhones, BlackBerries, and Windows Mobile phones off from time to time, especially while driving. That way you won’t run the chance of becoming a statistic that the police comment upon the next time that we have a service outage!

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