As far back as I can remember, I’ve had gadget envy.

The fact that I work with a bunch of gizmo geeks makes it even worse. No matter what kind of cell phone I get, my boss has one that’s smaller, lighter, and still manages to get better reception.

I got a new laptop a couple of months ago and had to listen to the guy down the hall explain why he got rid of that same model in exchange for his current, vastly superior laptop. When I got a Palm V, the sales reps started moving to the Palm VII with wireless modems.

When it comes to high-tech toys, I’m always a little late to the party.

That’s what makes this week so strange. I just found out that my boss is getting me one of the new BlackBerry pagers from RIM (Research In Motion). In fact, all of senior management is getting them.

No doubt you’ve seen this two-way pager, which allows you to send and receive e-mail from your company network. Not only that, but the BlackBerry synchronizes with Microsoft Outlook, so you always have access to your Calendar and Contacts.

There’s no denying it’s one cool device—the perfect cure for gadget envy.

So how come I’m not champing at the bit with excitement?

Getting work away from me
The main selling feature of the BlackBerry is that it gives you access to your e-mail anytime, anywhere. Some of the folks here at TechRepublic already have their BlackBerry units, and they worship them.

“Bob, you’re going to love it,” one of them said to me. “If you’re sitting in a conference room waiting for a meeting, you can knock off a bunch of e-mail. If you’re at home after dinner, you don’t have to fire up your laptop to check your Inbox. It’s right there on your belt.”

I’m not sure I want my Inbox on my belt.

It reminds me of the first time I went from a desktop to a laptop. The advantages of a laptop are obvious: You’re not tied to the office, you can get work done on the road, and you can work at home. That last point was important: If you had some more work to do, you didn’t have to drag yourself back to the office.

However, when you brought that laptop home, you brought your Inbox home with you. Bad enough that you can easily check your e-mail from home by dialing into the company’s VPN. With the BlackBerry, you don’t even have to make a call—your e-mail finds you!
Am I making too much fuss over this? Do the advantages that the BlackBerry offers in terms of productivity outweigh the concerns about being able to truly walk away from work at the end of the day? What do you think? Post a comment to this article and tell me. I’d particularly like to hear from current BlackBerry users about their experiences.
Consider the implications of an ever-present Inbox. Right now, even if I decide to check my e-mail, I don’t necessarily have to answer it. If my boss sends me something, I can just wait until morning and deal with it then—pretending that I didn’t look at my e-mail the previous evening. It’s harder to do that if your boss knows that your Inbox is always available.

And what about your family? How are they going to like it when you get dinged five or 10 times an hour while you’re at a nice restaurant? The poet said that the “world is too much with us.” Sometimes it seems as if work is too much with us.

Getting me away from work
At this point, you might be saying, “What’s the problem?” The BlackBerry allows all kinds of filtering options. If you’re worried about getting too many messages after hours, just set up a filter to only send urgent messages or messages from a limited group of people.

For that matter, why don’t you just turn the thing off at a certain time every evening?

I’m not sure I can. Not because my boss will force me to keep it on, but because I won’t be able to resist the temptation to see what’s going on. Perhaps my ambivalence about devices like the BlackBerry is not that they allow work to force its way into my personal life but rather that they allow me to force my way back into work.

I love my job, and I spend a lot of time at it. Fortunately, when I get home, I can usually stop thinking about it and try to enjoy the rest of my life. However, if I fire up my laptop and check e-mail, it’s easy to blow a couple of hours—time I could have spent doing something else.

I think there are a lot of IT professionals like me out there. We love what we do and find it hard to walk away from the office at night. As I said, what worries me about devices like the BlackBerry is not that they make it easier for the office to find me but that they make it easier for me to find the office.

Bob Artner is vice president for content development at TechRepublic.