BlackBerrys hurt work-life balance: Professor

Some users take mobile device on honeymoons, dates and to children's sports games

One woman says she caught her husband e-mailing under the table during their Valentine Day's dinner. Another woman says her companion checked his e-mail during their first date.

These are just some of the anecdotes families and friends of BlackBerry users, often called "BlackBerry orphans," give to illustrate how these devices disrupt a person's social and family life, according to a university professor in Toronto.

BlackBerry users extol the virtues of the device while family and friends find the hand-held device distracting and over-used, says Catherine Middleton, an associate professor at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management.

"In the past, work-life balance meant there was some sort of separation between your personal and work life. But with the BlackBerry, it allows you to bring your work home with you," says Middleton.

"Subscribers to BlackBerrys think this gives them more time to spend with their friends and families, but to those around these users, they are still at work."

Middleton analyzed 200 print stories, mostly from American media outlets and some international publications that reported on the behaviour of BlackBerry users and the perception of their family and friends from 2005 to 2007.

She found people were using their BlackBerrys while in the shower, at funerals and at their children's soccer matches or school performances and while on vacation. The users said they feel they are better able to manage the demands of their job by staying connected 24/7 to their e-mails.

By contrast, Middleton found the press often reported friends and family do not share the belief BlackBerrys bring a balance between work and social activities. Some reported they wanted to toss the "BlackBerry out the window" or "throw it off the boat when (they) were on (their) honeymoon."

Middleton's full findings will be published in a chapter of an upcoming book, Mobility and Technology in the Workplace, to be released in 2008.

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