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HURT: BlackBerry a metaphor for government

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Here in the land of BlackBerry, the man with two soup cans connected by a string is king.

Of course, if you happen to have an iPhone, you live on a blissful island of brilliant technology, instant connection to email and the Internet, and a seamless interface with your computer back at the office and at home.

But, as anyone in politics will bitterly tell you today, that iPhone has no place here.

That is because in all its vast wisdom at picking winners and losers, the federal government early on decided to bet on BlackBerry. It is what email and computer systems in Congress were designed around. It is what lawmakers and staffers all over the federal government are issued for work, and it is what President Obama keeps strapped to his side. It is what most campaigns run on.

The slow, halting and un-sleek device has been the government's handheld going all the way back to the days of Al Gore hustling his nerdy self from meeting to meeting rewriting the entire federal code because, as former President Clinton shrewdly and devastatingly observed: "He was the only person that I could trust to read all 150,000 pages in the Code of Federal Regulations."

Which is about what it is like trying to operate a BlackBerry. Complaints are endless about emails inexplicably coming in hours after they are sent. Contacts repeatedly ejected from your address book for no reason. The Web browser is so achingly slow that it is basically useless. By the time the requested page comes up, you have entirely forgotten what you were looking for.

The stupid thing chokes on simple commands, and the only way to unfreeze it is to take the back off, rip out the battery and reboot the whole thing. Ten minutes later, you are back up and running. Or crawling.

Then there is the machine itself, which is clunky and prone to breaking. And when the trackpad goes out — which is fairly common — you are left with a car without a steering wheel.

So it was only fitting that as the world celebrated the unrivaled brilliance of Steve Jobs and his unyielding pursuit of perfection as he revolutionized the world of handhelds with his iPhone, those shackled to BlackBerrys were consumed with something else.

In addition to all the cracked screens, choked service and missed emails, the entire service from the Middle East, across Europe and finally the U.S., fell crippled to a massive outage that BlackBerry has still yet to fully explain.

Oddly, the Edsel of handhelds is the one truly unifying thing in all of Washington. Antipathy for it is not a liberal or conservative thing. It's not a PC versus Mac thing.

It is just what happens when the government decides who wins and who loses, who lives and who dies.

Charles Hurt's column appears Wednesday. He can be reached at charleshurt@live.com.

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