BlackBerry Addicts Twiddle Their Thumbs

By Sam Diaz and Sabrina Valle
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 19, 2007

Carrie Brooks knew something wasn't right when she woke Wednesday morning and didn't see an e-mail from her boss, Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, on her BlackBerry.

The mayor, a proud BlackBerry addict who carries three of the devices on his hip, regularly sends an e-mail to her before he goes on an early morning run. But yesterday, there was an alarming absence of e-mail since the night before.

The popular BlackBerry handheld e-mail device rarely experiences a hiccup. But when the service goes down -- as it did from about 8 p.m. Tuesday until sometime during the Wednesday morning commute -- it can amount to a mini-crisis for e-mail addicts.

"It was a little nerve-racking . . . not to see anything on my BlackBerry, so I called around and made sure" everything was okay, said Brooks, the mayor's communications director. She said the city's operations were not disrupted.

Research in Motion, the Waterloo, Ontario, company that provides e-mail service on the BlackBerry, offered little information about what happened to cause the service disruption. It did say the disruption affected all customers in North America, which number in the millions.

Carriers that service BlackBerrys, such as Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless, said they received calls from customers about the disruption but noted that other services on cellphones -- voice calls, Web connections and text-messaging -- were not affected. Users of other smart phones, such as the Palm Treo, also were not affected.

Early Wednesday morning, some BlackBerry users didn't realize at first that the service was down. E-mails sent from home or office computers did not bounce back to senders; they got stuck in a traffic jam inside the BlackBerry pipeline.

Several BlackBerry users said they rushed to find other ways to get in touch with colleagues and customers after realizing the service was down.

"It is outrageous. How am I supposed to communicate?" said John English, 34, a Department of Veterans Affairs worker who is never far from his BlackBerry.

Yesterday he could not communicate with anyone when he woke up, so he rushed to the office early and turned on his desktop computer. "I missed important documents that were coming my way," English said. "I didn't have any idea why the system was down. Then everything was basically canceled."

At a downtown Starbucks yesterday, John Booth typed an e-mail to a customer on his laptop, taking advantage of the wireless service there. Booth, the owner of a marketing company, rushed to Starbucks after seeing that he didn't have the usual amount of e-mail in his BlackBerry inbox. "I noticed that there were something wrong. That's why I am here now," he said.

ProfitLine, a San Diego company that helps corporations manage their communications systems, including BlackBerrys, said the service interruption affected 81 percent of large companies in North America, according to a survey it conducted yesterday morning.

"These numbers show the critical role that wireless devices play in corporate America," said Randy DeLorenzo, a ProfitLine vice president.

As the service was restored by mid-morning, e-mails started falling into inboxes by the dozens.

Rick Abbruzzese, spokesman for Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, said disruptions were minimal. But the governor -- who straps two BlackBerrys to his belt -- was back at it by late morning, banging out messages with his thumbs.

Staff writer John Wagner contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company