NEW YORK – Self-confessed BlackBerry addicts experienced both a sense of panic, and relief, as the mobile e-mail device's network stalled overnight and cut communications for many of its millions of subscribers.
Nicknamed the "CrackBerry" by users hooked on being connected, the pocket-sized gadget's outage led to lost business deals for some, missed appointments for others and even a hiccup or two in the halls of government.
BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion Ltd. (RIMM) said on Wednesday morning that service to most customers had been restored after an interruption in North America that began the night before.
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They gave no details on how many subscribers had been hit or what caused the problem. But the lawyers, traders, politicians and other professionals dependent on the device made it clear their lives were thrown out of whack.
At the U.S. Capitol, where lawmakers and staffers rely on the BlackBerry to keep plugged into shifting legislative and political battles, the temporary outage was crippling.
"I felt like my left arm had been amputated," said Joe Shoemaker, communications director for Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin of Illinois.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto opened a morning briefing with reporters by apologizing for missed e-mails.
"I think we're 14 hours into no BlackBerrys. So you can imagine how things are over there," he said.
Charles Ross, a criminal defense lawyer in New York, said the outage left him feeling "vulnerable and uncomfortable," and caused him to miss a breakfast appointment with a colleague.
"He did not show and had sent me an e-mail that he wasn't able to make it," Ross said. "It just shows me how dependent we are on these mobile devices."
One Wall Street analyst said she kept hitting her BlackBerry's version of a "refresh" button in disbelief that the system could fail.
"I have a client that would have paid me with an immediate trade but they couldn't reach their trader because BlackBerry service was down," she said.
In the real estate industry, top brokers are more likely to "BlackBerry" a client or colleague than call by cell phone.
"If you don't respond to somebody via BlackBerry within an hour, or an hour and a half, you're ignoring them," and risk losing their business, said Darren Sukenik, executive vice president of luxury sales at Prudential Douglas Elliman.
THE PLEASURE OF A QUIET EVENING
British and American researchers last year found one-third of BlackBerry users showed symptoms of denial and withdrawal similar to those experienced by an alcoholic or drug addict.
In the Canadian Parliament, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn recounted how he almost missed a vote over railroad workers late on Tuesday night after missing several messages.
"I finally got a phone call that said, 'You've got six minutes before the vote'," Lunn told reporters.
Not everyone was hurt by the outage, particularly subscribers to alternative e-mail-on-the-go systems, such as Palm Inc.'s (PALM) Treo phone, or handsets powered by Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) mobile software.
"Fortunately, I am using a Treo," Yahoo (YHOO) Chief Financial Officer Susan Decker told business channel CNBC.
Some users saw a bright side to the outage, which gave them a rare evening of leisure.
"I was trying to conduct business with my BlackBerry last evening, but once I realized it didn't work I could sit down and enjoy the Rangers game and the Mets game," said William Hickey, co-head of investment banking at Sandler O'Neill & Partners in New York.
"I loved it," said Ben Lawsky, deputy counselor and special assistant to New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. "I was able to walk the dog this morning without it going off 19 times. So pleasant."