Picture of Sheri Burns
Bye-Bye, BlackBerry

Back in June, there was a story that seemed to appear everywhere about the general manager of the Sheraton Chicago, Rick Ueno, who decided his addiction to his BlackBerry was unhealthy. So he quit — cold turkey. Then he decided that everyone should be like him, so he started a BlackBerry Check-In program at his hotel. When you check in, you can hand over your BlackBerry, which is then locked in a safe until it’s time for you to check out.

The day the story came out, I received countless e-mail messages from “well-meaning” friends and family who thought I absolutely needed to do that.

My first thought was, I don’t need this; I’m not addicted. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it might be fun to prove those naysayers wrong. Of course I could check in my BlackBerry and live to tell about it.

When I mentioned that I was considering it, coworkers started creating all sorts of rules. It couldn’t be over a weekend, because everyone knows that weekend e-mails aren’t as important. And it had to be for more than one day, because anyone can do anything for a day. And I couldn’t tell people when I was doing it, because if people knew what I was doing, they wouldn’t e-mail me.

The more I heard, the more nervous I got. So I e-mailed Rick Ueno. I laughed when my first attempt to reach him ­resulted in an “out of office” reply that said, “Since I am no longer addicted to my BlackBerry, I will have limited access to my e-mail.” (Perhaps if you repeat it often enough, it becomes true?) And, in fact, it took him 17 hours to reply to me (he was very proud of that).

With Rick’s promise to “be there to coach and support” me, I booked a room and made plans to get together with Molly Conway, our central advertising manager, while I was in town.

Upon check-in, I said goodbye to my favorite friend while the front-desk staff and Rick did their best to encourage me. Then I headed to the coffee bar while my room was readied.

As I looked around me, I realized just what a need there is for this program, and wondered why I was the only one seemingly participating. Everyone was brandishing their PDA with a sense of entitlement. I tried not to be bitter. Or to hyperventilate.

The rest of the day went better than I expected. But in a pinch, I had access to e-mail through my laptop.

The next day, though, I was away from my laptop all day. While Molly and I were at a meeting (read: baseball game), once again, everyone around us was on their PDA. But, strangely,­ by then I was in a very peaceful state, and I really didn’t care what I was missing out on. Nor did I wonder.

Over dinner that night, Rick regaled us with how much better his life is post-BlackBerry. He did answer his cell phone twice, which I told him was just as bad, but he insisted it was only because it was his family calling.

I wasn’t convinced that giving up a BlackBerry was going to change my life, but I was sort of enjoying not having it around. It was a nice — albeit strange — feeling.

Checkout the next morning was surprisingly the hardest. I was giddy about being back in touch. But in the cab on the way to the airport, I scrolled through all of the messages that I had missed over the past 48 hours. Would you believe that there was nothing there that was the least bit important and very little that was even interesting?

So this is what I clamor for all day, I thought to myself. Perhaps Rick is right. It’s a want, not a need.

Now, months later, I can’t say I’ve gone the route of the Black­Berryless, but I have to admit that I don’t have that gnawing anxiety anymore. If I want to know what’s going on or want to send a message, I use it. Otherwise, I don’t think about it a lot.

Interestingly enough, it’s my friends, the very ones who suggested I take up the challenge, who are the most disappointed in the change. It seems they liked me more when they had access to me 24-7. Perhaps there’s something to that “be careful what you wish for” saying.

Signature of Sheri Burns