No BlackBerry, No Life

I'm addicted to this thing, says one CEO. But what if the connection shuts down?

What would a day without the BlackBerry be like? John A. Edwardson, chief executive of tech distributor CDW Corp., ponders the question over a breakfast of poached eggs, bacon, and decaf in a Manhattan hotel. He picks up his BlackBerry from the table, turns it over, then can't bring himself to imagine such a dire possibility. "Let me get this out up front: I'm addicted to this thing," he says. "Seriously, in my opinion, this is the most important productivity tool that has come out in my lifetime. You think of something in the middle of the night. Bang. You take care of it right away."

Unless, of course, the BlackBerry gets squashed. While that's a long shot, a U.S. district court judge in Virginia is hearing a case that could lead to the shutdown of BlackBerry service in the U.S., at least temporarily. Patent holding company NTP Inc. is suing Research In Motion Ltd. (RIMM ), BlackBerry's Canadian maker, alleging its wireless e-mail technology infringes on NTP patents. Unless the two sides reach a settlement, NTP has asked the judge, who has already ruled that NTP's claims have merit, to turn off RIM's service in the U.S.

If that were to happen, Edwardson and 2.8 million other BlackBerry addicts from Hollywood to Wall Street would find themselves staring at black screens. It's a serious enough risk that the Justice Dept. filed a motion on Nov. 10 asking the court to ensure that people in the federal government itself would be exempt from any injunction.

So Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist may be able to zip off e-mails to his staffers. But what happens to everyone else? What would the costs be of going without BlackBerry? Well, soccer games, for one. Peggy Foran, executive vice-president at Pfizer Inc. (PFE ), hightails it out of the office at 3 p.m. on game days so she can root for her daughter from the sidelines. No BlackBerry, no cheering for her. She admits to using it in less admirable spots, too. One time she was so busy typing e-mails in church during Easter mass that her daughters confiscated the machine. "I couldn't go back to not using one," she says.

Anthony Paduano figures he could go without -- for about 20 minutes. His law firm, Paduano & Weintraub LLP, is a litigation specialist with 13 senior lawyers in New York. "We advertise ourselves as a little boutique of trial lawyers who can go anywhere and be available anytime," says Paduano. "If you take our BlackBerries away, we wouldn't be able to do that. We would have to spend all our time trying to find a Kinko's (FDX )."

No wonder people are eager to stay connected. So addicted is Edwardson that he circles his cabin in Wisconsin searching for the nearest spots where he can use his BlackBerry. "Every year it gets closer," he says. "It used to be five miles away. Now there's a hill about two miles away where I can get a signal."

By Heather Green

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