Sunday, September 12, 2010

Parkinson's Disease and My Blackberry

You can have your iPhone 4.

I am a Blackberry devotee. I admit I have not given the Apple product much of a try, but I cannot imagine getting used to a keyboard that has no tactile or auditory response to confirm my commands. My Parkinson’s disease gives me enough trouble trying to manipulate the tiny thumb-ball and hit the right key on my Blackberry QWERTY board. Just the thought of my PD-stiffened fingers trying to “swish” through pages of data on the iPhone like a gambler dealing cards leaves me sweating. The idea aiming for the right images in the liquid crystal display “aquarium” leaves me clutching the older mechanical technology I am used to. The brainy but fragile Apple wunderkind has an aluminosilicate glass surface that would inevitably fail to survive the numerous fumbles that my Blackberry screen has suffered. I doubt if Mr. Jobs was thinking about selling many of his latest delicate touch screen products to people with Parkinson’s. He was counting on the tech-savvy and healthy young folks to fuel the waves of technological frenzy. Technology does not always serve the disabled.

I admit it. Some days my old Blackberry feels like a part of me. It provides memory where mine might fail. What am I doing today? When? Where? How do I get there? I shudder to think of the separation anxiety that I would suffer if I lost the machine that so ably replaces my dopamine-diminished mental faculties. One could argue it is the command centre of my life. We are certainly very close. It waits, red light blinking, on my bedside table ready to take my thumb-punched midnight brainstorm notes in place of the pencil I can no longer use. It threatens each morning to shriek at me to get up, were it not for the fact that insomnia has in gentle but insistent tones achieved that purpose much earlier. Now Bluetooth-compatible, it commandeers my car’s sound system, forcing me to speak its language if I want to listen to “Chicago’s Greatest Hits” or the BBC World Service. Even when outside the car the Blackberry crawls right into my head where my Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids serve double-duty by channeling phone calls and music to my auditory cortex, in stereo no less. Makes the volume-addicted earbud users wish they were deaf (although they may be soon enough).

But, as anyone familiar with edible blackberries knows, there are thorns to contend with. As a technophobe, the thorns have occasionally gotten the better of me. Glitches apparently unique to me have resulted in hours of telephonic technical support with someone in a faraway place chuckling at me while he/she gives me step-by-step instructions my 2-year-old grandson could follow. There have been screen freezes, unanticipated and unexplained vibrations, incredibly slow functioning, times when memory was erased and other times when calendar entries were cloned and multiplied. Of course, all of these glitches could be metaphors for PD.

But my most common irritant is when my laptop and Blackberry do not sync. Theses computers are clever enough to tell me there is a conflict between the reality on one machine versus the other, but not smart enough to tell me which reality is the real one. Sometimes that is the way I feel about PD; it prevents me from syncing with reality. Inside I am young at heart and ready to take on any challenge, pursue any adventure and champion any cause. But when my PD is dominant I find myself looking for the nearest fire escape, a last minute vacation or just an excuse to lie down. Sometimes PD, like my old Blackberry, is out of sync with reality, yet it creates and imposes its own certainty. And I must choose between the two.

Despite the passing frustrations with my Blackberry and its aging technology, I hang onto it. It is, for the most part, reliable and comfortable and, even if it is a little slower, I am too. I don’t need to keep up with all the bells and whistles. It puts up with my shortcomings and I do the same for it. Makes for a good relationship.


  1. Hi Bob - I am totally with you re the Blackberry. I've been entrusted with one after proving for a year that I cannot loose my previous ancient mobile phone (one of my husband's cast-offs). In truth it has become my constant companion and keeps me in touch with the outside world. I don't mind admitting I'm addicted to the thing and would be lost without it!

    Jo Collinge

  2. I don't think the iPhone is superior to Blackberries, but two functionality comments:

    1. You don't have to sync with a computer with an iphone (unless you want to sync music or photos). Syncing is wireless and automatic, without the need to press a button.

    2. The Dragon Dictate app works so well, it can replace typing altogether. This makes it very Parkinson's friendly.

    I have a feeling you could join the "dark side" eventually...

  3. Jo;

    Thanks for the comment. Having met you and Tim I am even more thankful. Seeing the damage that so easily befalls the iPhone confirms the choice of Blackberry.


  4. Hi Bob - Agreed! Honour to meet you and safe flight back home! Jo

    PS Had real trouble typing this, need Doris the Dragon.....

  5. I luv this blackberry !!!

  6. I was a blackberry user and lover until December, 2012, when I got converted by a sale price. My boss, as a realtor, had told me I really needed to update because the younger generation use them and we sell to them. So I did, and I am now so glad I did. It does so many things the blackberry didn't and now I hear blackberry will probably go out of business soon. There is one feature where you just turn on oral notes, and anything taking place is recorded. I used it in a real estate class so I wouldn't have to take written notes, and I used it to record my husband's snoring so he'd know why I didn't sleep that night.

    Anyway, I still carry my blackberry for the photos and information I had on it and keep it charged, but I so use the iphone alot more and everything is easier to learn on it and now I kick myself for not changing sooner.