Blackberry recently launched their iconic instant messaging app, BBM, on Android and iOS platforms. It created quite a frenzy among ex-Blackberry loyalists, driven mainly by the bouts of nostalgia. There were others too, who had never used Blackberry and thus BBM, but were curious. No wonder there were more than 10 million downloads of the app in the first 24 hours of the launch.
But people’s enthusiasm didn’t remain confined to the 4.7 inches of their smartphones. It percolated on social media too. People shared their BBM pins (for the uninitiated, BBM pin is a string of letters and numbers created by a cat walking on keyboard) and talked about the misery of having to stay in waiting line, and naturally comparisons to WhatsApp were also made.
But in just a couple of days, a curious thing happened. A group of people — irritated by the constant barrage of BBM pins in their News Feed — started targeting the “BBM brides”. They called them losers. They accused that the BBM brigade was lonely and didn’t have any friends. For the first time after 1991, the world was again divided into two camps (for Chetan Bhagat fans, check the entry under Cold War on Wikipedia).
The whole saga was quite interesting. It showed that textual communication has become an integral part of people’s lives, irrespective of whether someone belonged to the WhatsApp camp or BBM camp, or didn’t give a damn about the whole affair. We have come a long way since the time when pigeons were coaxed to deliver letters (remember the song Kabutar Ja Ja?). Though I do not have the confidence of India TV to pronounce that textual communication has trumped verbal communication as far as teenagers and yuppies (aka young upwardly mobile professionals) are concerned, texting has grown by leaps and bounds. Along with affordability, ubiquity and convenience, instant messaging apps have become quite popular for the emojis, ease of indulging in flirting, adult jokes and even sexting.
This incident also made me think about privacy (I have talked about privacy earlier as well). I kept asking the question: Do people really care about privacy? If yes, then how can they think of making their BBM pins available in the public domain? I sometimes wonder if privacy is the fetish of the researchers and columnists alone; and however genuine their concerns may be, general public does not give a damn about it.
BBM will not change the way we text. It may not even be able make much dent in WhatsApp’s dominance. But this episode has shown how attached youngsters are to the new technologies and how important they deem them. I hope to explore the sociological perspectives of this issue in my future posts.