When products die | The death of the iconic Blackberry is another life cycle ending in ours
Karthik VenkateshJanuary 15, 2022 14:02:32 IST
When products die
Goldeneye (1995), Pierce Brosnan’s first appearance as James Bond, climaxes in a disused Moscow park dotted with fallen statues dating back to the former Soviet Union. Busts and statues of communist leaders and symbolic representations of workers’ power (all with the proverbial hammer and sickle) are scattered as Bond confronts his nemesis. The previous Bond film, License to Kill, was released in 1989 before the memorable events of that year heralded the end of the Soviet Empire. The images in Gouden Oog were a reminder to the viewer of the changing world where the ghosts of the past still lurk.
Then imagine a similar park, populated by obsolete products. What products do you see floating around in your mind’s eye? Audio cassette players and cassettes? pagers? Telephone directories? Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs)? The Telegraph?
The imminent death of the vintage Blackberry
On January 4, 2022, another product was added. The impending death of the Blackberry is no exaggeration. Granted, it hasn’t kicked the bucket yet. But now that the company announced it was shutting down support for its operating system and associated services, many vintage Blackberries have likely either stopped functioning or will be getting there soon. The Blackberries that will continue to run are the ones that run the Android operating system.
The history of Research in Motion, the company that created the Blackberry, dates back to 1996 when they introduced a bi-directional pager, the [email protected] Pager 900. The first BlackBerry device, the 850, was introduced in 1999 as a bi-directional pager. . pager in Munich, Germany. The name BlackBerry was coined by the marketing company Lexicon Branding. The name was chosen because of the similarity of the keys on the keyboard to the drupes that make up the blackberries.
In 2002, the Blackberry smartphone was released. During that decade, as better versions of the phone hit the market, the Blackberry took the market by storm. In 2009, it had a 20 percent share of the smartphone market. But when Apple and Samsung made a joint bid for world domination, Blackberry’s offerings quickly began to fall by the wayside. By 2013, the company wanted to be acquired. Its heyday was in the past. Corporate parties and other similar acrobatics kept things going, and the vintage Blackberry continued to occupy a niche…until January 4th!
The Legendary Telegraph
On July 14, 2013, the world’s last telegram was sent from a telegraph station somewhere in India. On May 24, 1844, the telegraph age had begun with the transmission of the message, “What hath God wrought!” between Washington DC and Baltimore, Maryland. Developed by Samuel Morse, it quickly revolutionized communications. In 1851 there were more than 50 telegraph companies operating in the US.
In India, the first experimental electric telegraph line was started between Calcutta and Diamond Harbor in 1850. The construction of telegraph lines connecting Kolkata (then Calcutta) and Peshawar in the north; Agra, Mumbai (then Bombay) and Chennai (then Madras) in the south; Ootacamund (Ooty) and Bangalore, started in November 1853. William O’Shaughnessy, an Irish physician, was instrumental in its development.
A few years later, it proved almost invaluable in saving the empire. On 11 May 1857, a message from Delhi to Ambala and then to Lahore brought news of the Meerut mutiny. It was the beginning of what was later referred to by the British as the ‘Sepoy Mutiny’ and the Indians as the ‘First War of Indian Independence’. The telegram prompted the British to move quickly to recapture Delhi and eventually put down the rebellion.
Legend has it that a captured mutineer, who was led to the gallows, pointed to a telegraph line and exclaimed, “There’s the cursed string that strangles us!”
In memory of the events of that fateful May, a Telegraph Memorial was unveiled on 19 April 1902 for the new British Telegraph Office in another part of Delhi ‘commemorating the loyal and devoted services of the Delhi Telegraph Office staff on the eventful 11 May 1857’. A 20-foot gray granite obelisk, inscribed by Robert Montgomery, the lieutenant governor of Punjab: ‘The electric telegraph saved India.’
A memorial to a product, no less! A signpost for posterity.
The disappearance of landmarks
Allow yourself to wander back to the 90s or even the 80s. Imagine the streets of those days. Three things that were ubiquitous at the time are now all but gone. The ‘an hour photo lab’, the SOA/ISD PCO and the video library.
The photo lab dates back to when cameras with rolls of film were the order of the day. Photography was a deliberate, thoughtful activity, the results of which were only known when the film reel was ‘developed’. Nowadays, the smartphone has made photography an instant gratification activity. Posing, examining, resting in a loop is de rigueur. The camera phone instantly killed the roll of film, the analog cameras they used, and the photo lab.
The STD/ISD PCO started cropping up when the first telecom revolution, pioneered by Sam Pitroda and C-DoT, started showing visible results in the late 1980s. As telephone connections became easier to obtain, the ‘STD booth’ began to crop up across the country. Often these were additions to supermarkets, copy shops, and other nearby landmarks. One came in, made the call, then walked out. They were a godsend in a country where for decades a personal telephone connection was a status symbol.
As the second telecom revolution unfolded and the mobile phone became a ubiquitous commodity, the STD booth became an anomaly. The cell phone is also largely responsible for the disappearance of telephone directories and Yellow Pages, which died a silent, unannounced death.
As for the video store, the growth of cable TV and more recently, streaming platforms, they took in.
The strange STD booth or video store may still survive – ghosts from the not-so-distant past!
On your way out?
At the moment, other products are also on their last legs. Think of the printed road maps that most car dashboards contain and which many used to navigate the city. Digital maps have since taken over this function. Printed road maps are on their way to becoming historical relics.
The fax machine is also moving quickly in the direction of the past. Email and scanners have largely eroded its use. Likewise, multi-volume encyclopedia sets have been replaced by online versions.
However, all deaths and disappearances are not necessarily for the better. The gradual disappearance of bookstores and neighborhood libraries should concern everyone. Bookstores, libraries and their well-stocked bookcases were once gateways to other worlds and possibilities. The joy sparked by the discovery of books and authors on the shelves of shops or libraries is perhaps unparalleled. “Paradise is a library, not a garden,” Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges once said.
Of course, correlation does not necessarily have to be a causal relationship. But remember that the gradual erosion of the reading habit over the past few decades has been accompanied by a growing illiberal streak around the world and the enigmatic rise of strong men (yes, mostly men!). Something to think about?
While products are passed on, their memories often survive, often in interesting ways. The telegraph as a technology is really dead, but the name lives on. Many newspapers around the world still use it. Why Telegram is even the name of a digital messaging app.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même choose (the more things change, the more they stay the same). At least more or less.