Postcards

How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

BlackBerry and me: a tipping point

May 4, 2009: 2:59 PM ET

Did you hear that Research in Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry Curve 8900 toppled Apple's (AAPL) iPhone as the No. 1 smart-phone in the first quarter? So says research firm NPD Group.

While I've never considered myself a barometer of technology trends, I have to tell you, the fact that I bought a Curve 8300 on Saturday says something about BlackBerry's surging popularity.

You see, I am the furthest thing from a gadget person. When it comes to personal technology, I'm a Neanderthal.

At least I used to be.

I shouldn't be telling you any of this. After all, I'm a blogger. I rely on the Internet to exchange ideas with you. I depend on your respect for me as a journalist who's well-connected in every way -- including technologically.

Okay, my true confession: I didn't even own a home computer until a few months ago.

I still don't have a microwave.

For years, I hid my secret -- which you might consider to be a sort of anti-addiction to technology. That's how I see it. If I keep gadgets out of my personal life, I always figured, I wouldn't be tempted to work much outside the office. It was a workaholic's self-discipline. Sort of like an an alcoholic who keeps alcohol out of the house to avoid being tempted to drink.

And my self-denial worked for me for a long while. And I faked my tech savvy even as I wrote about the technology industry. In the summer of 2006, for example, when I was reporting a Fortune cover story about MySpace founders Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson, called "MySpace Cowboys," I couldn't let these cool dudes know that they wouldn't be able to reach me by email on weekends. I never told them.

Nor could I tell the rising-star women of Silicon Valley, whom I wrote about last October in a Fortune story called "The New Valley Girls." These women, who included Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and the top female execs at Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO) and eBay (EBAY), assumed that I was as tethered to technology and "with it."

Hardly.

I began to slip two summers ago when Apple launched the iPod Touch. I bought one immediately. I was pleased that I could access the web in WiFi zones, like Starbucks stores, but not check my work email too easily. Working outside the office was possible, but it took effort.

Perfect. Then, early this year, soon after Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) released its Mini 100 netbook and the market for these compact notebook computers exploded, I bought one. I also called Verizon to sign up for wireless Internet service in my Manhattan apartment.

I was on the slippery slope, I knew it.

What made me cave completely and buy a BlackBerry? The tipping point was last Tuesday, when I spent hours at the White House. The day was memorable for lots of reasons. While I've been around plenty of powerful people during my 25 years at Fortune, I'd never spent a lot of time in Washington's halls of power.

So there I was, on President Obama's 99th day in office. I had scheduled brief meetings with a bunch of top women in the Obama Administration not to report a story but to tell them about Fortune's Most Powerful Women, which is our second-biggest brand behind the Fortune 500 and expanding aggressively. Well, my meeting times with these folks inevitably shifted that day, and it was, I quickly realized, insane that they had to communicate with me via phone because I wasn't on email.

It dawned on me that these people are working their butts off to save America from swine flu -- which was the crisis of the day that I visited -- and financial meltdown, and I'm inconveniencing them by resisting basic technology. How rude of me. "I can't believe you don't have a BlackBerry!" Susan Sher, President Obama's associate legal counsel, said to me, graciously.

Sher was my tipping point. And so, out of guilt, embarrassment, and also civic responsibility, I caved and bought a BlackBerry. I already can't live without it.pattie-signature1

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About This Author
Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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