The Old Man & the Blackberry
Murray River is a little hamlet on the east coast of PEI. Like most small places, it’s built around a harbour. One summer my young son and I were invited aboard a commercial fishing boat with nearby residents to try our hand at catching something memorable. Instead, it was an afternoon of technology salesmanship.
The captain of the boat was a guy named Gabe Gormley. Gabe was right out of central casting: a big burly fellow that liked his beer and got down to the business of fishing in an easy, gentle but no-nonsense way. Not quite Captain Quint of the movie Jaws fame, but close.
Once out of the harbour we dropped our lines in the flat seas and did what most fishermen do: waited and talked. I was interested in Gabe’s business, so I starting asking about the season so far, the weather, the market prices for product, labour etc. As a gear guy, I was also checking out Gabe’s rig and electronics he had on board. Fishing wasn’t cheap. There was diesel fuel to buy, endless boat repairs, beer of course and equipment like the GPS system I was playing with. “Break that and we’d be in trouble” he said. It was a big, old clunky system with a green and black screen showing his boat’s location in the Northumberland Strait. It did the job, but it was pretty basic.
The conversation switched to me whereby I told of Gabe about my career at BlackBerry at the time. He had heard of the company but never had handled a device before (this was several years ago). I showed him the sea grey coloured Pearl model (appropriately) I had with me and demonstrated it’s built in GPS receiver and native maps application. On the device’s little blue screen, there was his boat slowly moving along the map surface. I switched to satellite view and the screen came alive with roof tops of the village, trees and other boats. Zoom in and you could see waves and currents. Gabe saw his house. I switched to a weather app and showed him the forecast (rain was coming) with animated Doppler radar. Gabe was pretty captivated.
He asked what this handheld wonder cost. Depending on your plan, under two hundred bucks plus a monthly service contract – itself, maybe thirty of forty dollars I said. He eyed the existing GPS system installed on his wooden cockpit. No doubt it did a bit more navigation wise, but cost thousands of dollars. It was a dirty grey box, it wasn’t a phone, didn’t hook up to the Internet, and didn’t have a camera or a neat game called Brick Breaker. It was a handy place to put his beer. I let him play with the BlackBerry and he let my son and I work the boat.
“Keep it to the right young fella” I heard from behind me a little while later. I turned expecting to see Gabe’s grisly chin and oiled sweater over my shoulder, peering ahead at the navigation buoy off Gordon’s Island – a meaty hand ready to take the wheel. Instead, Gabe was sitting well aft of the wheelhouse, a beer in one hand and the BlackBerry in the other, gazing at our progress by watching his boat on the phone’s screen. It was like he was piloting a sea born drone from afar, his big thumb flicking at the buttons, and rather liking it.
Sometimes the barrier to technology adoption is veneer thin (in this case, as thin as an oyster shell). You just need to put it in their hands and then you have them hook, line and sinker.