Too much time, not enough phone

We're too dependent on our phones, right? Obsessed. But when you're cut off, all you can do is spend all that down-time coming up with conspiracy theories. As BlackBerry has found out after its (almost) worldwide outage

A slight clammy feeling. General anxiety. A sense that something is missing or out of place. Heightened frustration or even distress.

These are the symptoms of BlackBerry withdrawal, and the implications of this condition are now being experienced on a continent near you. Not your continent, mind you, as no-one's really sure whether New Zealand is a continent or not and you also escaped the Blackberry outages that hit North and Latin American, Europe, Asia and Africa.

The contagion began in Europe on Monday, and the BlackBerry service problems spread quickly. My BlackBerry was caught up in this blackhole, receiving no personal email, no Twitter, and work emails only in clumps and bunches every now and then. What to do?

Users I spoke to reported a range of responses ranging from the glazed (no emails, no worries) to the twitching.

Three or four days of intermittent or no service is a problem for the general public and a major inconvenience for business people, but it’s seen as a potentially fatal blow to the company behind the BlackBerry, Canada’s Research in Motion. RIM was already struggling, criticized in the tech blogs and by stock analysts for the lack of great new phones and falling average sales prices. It’s being beaten by Apple and Android phones.

And RIM hasn’t done itself any favors during this latest crisis, providing explanations and communications that have failed to satisfy the general public or the market watchers we hear from on CNBC. I would reproduce RIM’s latest statement here so you could decide for yourself, but err, it’s stuck on my BlackBerry. I think. Frustrated users had time on their hands for much of last week, and you know what that means. Journalists and business people with itchy thumbs and high anxiety levels.

Yes, conspiracy theories abound. It’s too generous perhaps to describe these as actual “theories,” but here’s some you might not have heard (or thought of) already.

  • It’s all a plot by Apple, which has just launched its newest version of the iPhone.

Somehow the very clever chaps at Apple have figured out how to bring BlackBerry to its knees just in time to interest us all in a new and shiny alternative. This sort of theory only sounds interesting rather late on a Friday night. In the pub. After many pints. Apple needs only to carry on the way it has for years in order to increase its lead on RIM.

  • It’s some kind of hacking attempt like the recent ones on Sony.

Angry young people who see BlackBerrys as the preserve of old guys and bankers have figured out how to stick it to the man. Well, maybe, but given that plenty of younger people, from noble-sounding hacktivists to rioting hoodie wearers rely on Blackberry and its messenger system, that idea isn’t going to wash.

  • It’s actually an establishment plot.

With the Occupy Wall Street movement growing in New York, and similar protests that set up outside St Pauls in London, one user I spoke to who was particularly agitated by the unavailability of both her BlackBerrys (or it is Blackberries?) offered this one as a paranoid possibility: What if authorities are experimenting with a way to prevent any Arab Spring-type of communication in the West? As conspiracy theories go, this one sounds like a hum-dinger.

But the truth as we know it from RIM is so much more prosaic – some switch broke, back-up systems failed to kick-in etc. The company's really sorry and is offering free apps by way of apology to its 70 million customers.

It seems the outage all stems back to it office in Slough, United Kingdom. Yes, Slough. And Slough is famous for another sort of Office. The one featuring David Brent. You know, “The Office.”

Poor Slough, butt of so many jokes and now the center of a global communications debacle and rather a lot of odd conspiracy theories.