Occasionally, I see the stories about people going cold turkey, keeping the laptops switched off, the smartphone tucked into their underwear drawer. But at the end of that week or 10 days, it usually ends up being just like Jack and Ennis: “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

I probably waited the longest than anyone I know to get a cel phone: 1997. I didn’t have wireless Internet at home until about 2005 (or was it 2006?) and only bought my own computer, a MacBook, when I left for my Knight-Wallace fellowship in 2006 when I qualified for a student discount.

It’s not that I didn’t see technology’s use or that I considered myself a technophobe. But I had a computer at work and could take care of my Internet needs there. I didn’t feel as if I was missing anything by not having real time access to my email.

Of course, having wireless access, my own computer and, eventually, my very own BlackBerry (thanks to my brother who has plenty of hand-me-downs as he always upgrades to the latest and greatest) has changed what used to be that casual relationship with mobile technology.

Especially now, when I live halfway around the world from home, my BlackBerry is a pretty important connection to friends and family. Facebook is my virtual water cooler: there I find my friends’ wedding or cute kid photos, read their latest journalistic triumphs or delight in pictures of my nephew meeting his great-grandmother for the first time.

And now the UAE is threatening to take my lifeline away. Yesterday morning, I received this text message: “Dear Valued Customer: The UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority has decided to suspend BlackBerry services from Oct. 11, 2010. In accordance with this decision Etisalat will soon announce alternative mobility products and services.”

Uh, this means no email, no Internet and no BB messaging. My BlackBerry, the TRA said, was this shy of being a very expensive paperweight.

Now the government here says the tiff with RIM is about making sure that information flowing over the BlackBerry network doesn’t pose national security risks. But I think this is about control. The scope of personal liberty here is not as wide as it is in the US or other parts of the West. While, for the most part, I live here as I would at home, there are limits to what UAE authorities deem acceptable. Try to access a website on wine (or in this case, a website on makeup for Indian women) and you’ll be greeted by this friend:

Bad! Bad web user!

Saudi Arabia followed suit late Sunday announcing it, too, would suspend such services at the end of this month. There has been no official response from RIM in Canada. I can’t imagine RIM would jeopardize its business model – one based on the level of security that the UAE finds offensive – to placate a market of a half-million subscribers. There’s some kind of gamesmanship going on and I doubt we’ll ever find out the true story.

Given the October deadline, it seems that something will be worked out in the meantime. What will Etisalat do? Give us all iPhones? Already, cel retailers are hurting: More than half of some of their business comes from sales of BlackBerrys and related products.

Stay tuned. I will be. Or I will be at least as long as the TRA will let me.

3 thoughts on “Black(Berry)out

  1. I saw this yesterday and immediately thought of you. This is ridiculous. And I thought living in Texas was like living in another world…

  2. hahaha. it’s so strange because there isn’t enough information out there as to what’s going on. i still haven’t been able to figure out if what the UAE is demanding is any different from what other places have or is it special access or what? you read conflicting reports. and there’s talk of why should RIM cater to a relatively small group of customers. etisalat has sent out texts on the new options, trading in your phones, etc. i’d rather them just come to some solution where i didn’t have to upend my life …

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