NEW YORK – It was a lazy summer night and Andy Pollard was just returning home from a long day at his job in Manhattan.

He sat down at the dinner table on Staten Island to enjoy four savory Thai cuisine dishes with his family and to discuss everyone’s day.

But as the dinner hour wore on, Pollard’s wife noticed that he had been silent the whole time. She looked in his direction and was appalled to see his attention focused on the newest addition to his life – his BlackBerry.

For many people, languid summer evenings and even vacations don’t ease the compulsive need to check their BlackBerry or similar gadgets like the iPhone, which give them access to e-mail, the Web and a phone. Users constantly yearn for another glance, to see what’s new at work.

Valerie Lopiano, a real estate sales agent, admits to being addicted to her BlackBerry, regardless of whether she’s officially working.

Which means, as is the case for many BlackBerry users, she’s always working.

“I check it continuously, about three to four times an hour,” Lopiano said. “If I go on vacation, it has to come with me. It’s the only way.”

Launched in 1997 as a two-way pager, the BlackBerry evolved into a handheld device that now supports e-mail services, mobile telephones, text messaging and Web browsing.

With 9 million users throughout North America, the device has many Americans finding it difficult to stay focused on anything else. Pollard, a senior computer technician for a law firm, said he receives a seemingly endless stream of e-mails on his BlackBerry each day.

He estimates that he checks his BlackBerry between 20 and 30 times a day. “In the business field, using the BlackBerry is the fastest way of communicating with someone,” he said.

Lopiano agrees. Though she only recently began using a BlackBerry for her job, she said the device has boosted her business. Now she can instantly look up housing property details for her customers on the phone’s Web browser application.

“It has benefited my job because I don’t have to wait anymore to communicate with buyers,” she said.

That’s the positive side.

On the down side, the portable gadgets can create a strain on family life.

Cilia Baez, a manager at beauty retailer Sephora in Manhattan, said her children and her boyfriend hate it when she uses her BlackBerry.

“My kids always ask me why I am on the phone again, and my boyfriend asks me if I can turn my phone off when I’m with him,” she said.

Request denied.

Baez said she does not regret having a BlackBerry, because it helps her stay connected with her colleagues.

According to AOL Mail’s fourth annual E-mail Addiction Survey, 46 percent of e-mail users said they’re hooked on e-mail and 28 percent said they feel obligated to check their work e-mail on vacation. Worse, 19 percent choose vacation destinations based on the availability of e-mail access.

The survey also found that New York ranks No. 1 on a list of the 10 most e-mail-addicted cities in the country, followed by Houston, Chicago and Detroit.

But is the addiction to checking e-mail really necessary for workers to stay connected to their jobs? Is receiving e-mails such an urgent matter that it has to be indulged 25 times daily?

According to psychologist Dr. Larry Arann, the answer is no.

“There are some people who will say BlackBerries are indispensable because it gives them a sense of importance, such as constant contact, but I just think it’s needless, it’s a distraction and it is more of a fad,” he said.

It’s certain many workers see BlackBerries and other devices such as the Sidekick, Treo and iPhone as more of a necessity than a “fad.”


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