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Source: Ryerson University

Posted on January 18, 2007

      A Ryerson study shows the BlackBerry has blurred the boundaries between work and home.

      It's about the size of a large wallet and over seven million people worldwide have one. The BlackBerry has become an essential mobile communication device, but it has also blurred the boundaries between the workplace and home, according to a study by Ryerson researchers at the School of Information Technology Management.

      Associate Professor Catherine Middleton and Wendy Cukier, Associate Dean, Faculty of Business, interviewed 13 BlackBerry users across a range of industries, from construction to sports management, to examine the benefits and disadvantages of using this device.

      The participants, including CEOs, managers and entry-level employees, were asked how often, when and where they use their mobile e-mail devices, how important was it for them to be accessible at all times, who they gave their BlackBerry e-mail addresses to and how user- friendly were the devices.

      The researchers divided their answers into four key areas: danger, anti-social behaviours, distraction and infringement. They found that while the participants were aware of how negative and, at times, potentially dangerous their behaviour with their devices was, they justified its use. For example, one user from the prairies said in defense of checking emails while driving: "there wasn't much traffic out here." Others say they see driving as a way to catch up with e- mail so they aren't missing information while commuting, according to the report.

      "For non-users, BlackBerry usage patterns seem extreme, but for the users, they make perfect sense," says Dr. Middleton. She added that more than one respondent would bring the device to the beach as a way to have more mobility to control the work environment. "I see that as a reflection of a broader societal force that is reinforcing this behaviour."

      Other findings include:

      Anti-social behaviours
Twelve of 13 respondents said they have ignored their surroundings to answer their e-mails. Most also reported they have attended meetings where other people are "more engaged with their devices than with those in the meeting room." However, they justified this behaviour by saying they are able to respond to multiple demands and emphasized they are being "respectful" when using the device around people.

For many of the participants, the distinctive buzz their device emits when they receive a message is "truly a Pavlovian stimulus and elicits an immediate reaction." Ignoring it is like "fighting the urge" not to respond. However, being able to respond to a message almost instantaneously allows the users to multitask effectively.

Many of the individuals say they use their mobile device at all hours, some using it as an alarm clock so they can check their e- mails the moment they wake up. They use it on weekends, on vacation, even when they're golfing. Ironically, they say it gives them the freedom to work anywhere, anytime so they aren't tied to their office.

      Dr. Middleton says while having a BlackBerry can liberate someone from his or her office, she cautions against its overuse. "While mobile e-mail has much to offer, we suggest that its potential for dysfunctional usage should be recognized and addressed in order to create a better working environment for all."

      Looking ahead, the professor is interested in how the media portrayal of the BlackBerry - labelling it a "CrackBerry" and "an addictive device" - has had an impact in the workplace.

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