From BBM to Wisconsin: Realizing The Dream of Meeting My Online Best Friend

Ever think about your best friend and think about how you met? The strange interactions that led you to trusting that person enough to share with them your deepest fears, joys, secrets, vulnerabilities, and the other things you can’t talk about with just anyone? When I met my childhood best friends eighteen years ago, our first communication was an exchange of insults.

When I met her, it was a tweet over phones.

If you know me on social media (namely Twitter, but sort of Facebook as well), then you know who this “her” is.

September 2013 is when I like think my Twitter account was “really born.” I’ve actually had it since 2011 but never could quite grasp the concept or see its necessity in my life. While struggling with how hashtags worked and what the “@“ meant, I followed a bunch of people who I believed had interests similar to my own (or, at the very least, shared one interest with me). Roger Federer had lost in the 4th Round of the US Open (darn you, Tommy Robredo) and Rafael Nadal ended up winning the tournament that September over Novak Djokovic in the final (still wondering how that happened). What that meant for me was the beginning of a small period of time when I didn’t want to look at or talk about tennis. So I pursued one of my other passions on social media; BlackBerry.

Trying to, in a sense, “establish myself,” on Twitter, I followed a ton of BlackBerry users and employees and got over the shyness of tweeting “at” someone rather quickly. It was during this period of Twitter nascence that I stumbled across a discussion about virtual keyboards and haptic feedback or speakers or something about a BlackBerry device. It was between a man (whom I had recognized from other BlackBerry communities) and a girl I had never seen before. I assume I had some kind of an opinion because I responded. I clicked on her profile.

Lauren Kortbein @laurenkortbein

She was very clearly someone who’s passion for BlackBerry far exceeded my own and someone who was quite recognizable and outspoken in the BlackBerry community. If my goal was to build a foundation of users based on my passion for BlackBerry, she was someone I had to follow. So I followed her. She was just another BlackBerry user. Nothing more. But she was probably the first BlackBerry user I followed that was close to me in age (it appeared, anyway), so I found her slightly more relatable than the rest.

Reflecting back, I don’t remember how many times I responded to BlackBerry-related tweets from Lauren. Her tweets were always so amusing and so full of excitement. Her obsession with cars became equally as apparent as her passion for BlackBerry and technology in general. But she was still, very much, a normal 21-year-old college girl. One particular interaction about the movie Bridesmaids comes to mind, particuarly because I responded and was compelled to promise Lauren I’d watch the movie (which I did end up doing).

We quite clearly had many exchanges over that autumn and winter. By February and March, I’d say she was my most frequent Twitter mention. There was seldom a day when we didn’t interact with each others’ tweets.

By mid-March, the 140 character restraint Twitter imposes on its communications felt far too cramped for what felt like a burgeoning friendship, and one that could work. I sent her my BBM PIN on direct message through Twitter and we finally could talk in private with messages of any length. She was the same on BBM as she was on Twitter; funny, bubbly, easily excitable, and very, very friendly.

Lauren was one of the primary reasons I decided to upgrade my Z10 to a Z30 when I did and she was also the one who celebrated with me the most over Twitter and BBM. It was then I really began to feel like we were friends. Over the next few months we exchanged BBMs and had a few conversations here and there. Over Twitter, thanks to my big mouth, I inadvertantly promised her an Audi R8 for her birthday (which is a the end of May). As someone who takes promises very, very seriously, I did what most poor college students do when they can’t afford something; I improvised. I sent her a model R8 and a birthday and made absolutely certain it would arrive on her day. The idea of sending a gift to a girl I’d known only online was a bit strange, but her reaction justified it instantly. I’d do it again.

The following months that consisted of my summer almost exclusively belonged to Lauren. It started with a discussion about an episode of MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show and our relationship really took off from there. I wasn’t a particular fan of the series but I looked forward to our “Catfish Wednesday” where we’d both watch the newest episode together, but apart. Catfish was only one of the many shows we watched over the summer. If you follow Lauren, then you’re very well aware of her fondness for Netflix. The next three months was

The craziness of watching anything with Lauren

The craziness of watching anything with Lauren

filled with shows like House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Wilfred, amongst others. One night Lauren came home after watching the movie The Fault in Our Stars and told me how much of a fantastic book and film it is. I ordered the book instantly and finished it just a few days later.

I should say that none of the above television shows or books are in my usual scope of things I enjoy watching. I don’t really like reality TV (though us watching a show like Catfish is really quite poetic) or comedies like OitNB. I’m much more into heavy stories, psychologial shows, cyberpunk, and science fiction. But I was changing as a person. I was becoming more open-minded about what I chose to watch and, let’s face it, I took any excuse I could to talk to Lauren. Anything at all. That’s how much I enjoyed our time “together.”

Our relationship was changing, too. Whereas prior to the summer we just casually talked every once in a while about BlackBerry or something we saw on Twitter, we began to talk more about what we were watching, our lives, day-to-day things, and outlying acitivities. If something happened, Lauren would be the first person I’d tell about it. It was quickly becoming the case that she’d be the person I’d talk to after waking up and the last person I’d say “goodnight” to at night. She was the only one of my friends with whom I could talk to over the course of an entire day. My friendship with her was different than any of my others, despite being much shorter than most.

The day we had our first video chat was significant in that it was an otherwise miserble day for me. Earlier that same day I had received my first speeding ticket and just talking to her salvaged my entire day. Actually, it did more than simply “salvage” it; it turned it almost completely on its head. That’s what a friend is supposed to do.

As the summer grew to a close, I was sad that the whirlwind of an incoming semester was going to really limit the amount of time I can spend talking to my friends and what I can do for my own pleasure. Still, we maintained a fantastic relationship. However, it was quickly approaching the point to where phone calls, photos, video chats; these mediums were not enough. I had come to the point where I really, really wanted to meet her. I wanted to meet Lauren. But I needed an excuse.

My excuse came in the form of a trip to Louisiana. My dad (who lives in Louisiana) didn’t seem as though he’d make it home for Christmas. So I decided to take a trip to the warm South just after Christmas. I’d bifurcate the trip so that the first half would be in Louisiana and the second half would be in Wisconsin. I though I had a foolproof plan.

When I asked Lauren whether it was even a good idea to meet, to my surprise and relief, she not only loved the idea, but really couldn’t wait for the day to arrive. I had honestly thought she’d shy away from the idea; that I was much too boring of a person worth her meeting, let alone stay in her house for four days. But she was excited and that really helped me in my determination to make it work. We had actually joked about one of us visiting the other over the summer, but it just seemed to be one of those things you only envision actually doing. Never did I imagine it may become my reality. I had dreams of it. I was on the cusp of fulfilling it.

Explaining it to my parents was a battle I was dreading to have to fight. My sister and mom knew who Lauren was, but neither was convinced I knew her well enough to actually go see her. When I told my mom, she panicked. For her, this was a new leap on so many levels. Keep in mind that my parents grew up in India and my mom has really only been in the United States for about two years longer than me. Her reservations are fueled by cultural and, to a very real extent, practical concerns. For one, this was the first time I was going to be traveling to see someone not in my family. Moreover, no one but me acutally knew Lauren. Secondly, I was going to see a girl (a white girl, at that). This sounded off so many cultural alarms. Her concern instantly turned to who else would know. I had no intention of keeping my trip a secret, and why should I? I was proud of Lauren; proud of who she is and proud that I can call her my friend. Up until the day I left my mom kept trying to sway me away, if not from the trip then from the idea of staying with her in her apartment. But I couldn’t.

I didn’t bother explaining Lauren to my father. As traditional as my mother is, my father is ten times as worse. There’s nothing wrong with being traditional, but when it errs on the side of unreasonable, my explanation seemed as it would fall on deaf ears. So I lied and told him Lauren was actually a male friend whom I had met in university and transferred to the University of Wisconsin. Yes, it was wrong to lie, and I felt even worse telling Lauren that I had to lie about who she is just so I could go see her.

I never really gained full approval from my mother, but I didn’t have time to wait on her either. So I bought my tickets for New Orleans and Minneapolis. The dream to see Lauren one day was no longer a dream; it was a reality in the making.

93 days marked the difference between purchasing the tickets and the date we’d meet. That’s all.

Turned out to be a longer 93 days than either of us had envisioned. Over the course of that period, the both of us had switched platforms; BlackBerry 10 to iOS. Had this been any other relationship this change would’ve been so trivial it wouldn’t have even been worth mentioning. But the only reason Lauren and I knew each other was because of our mutual passion for BlackBerry. Ironically by the time we’d meet, neither of us would be on the platform that brought us together.

As our BBMs became texts and then iMessages, we grew even closer over those 93 days. As the semester became more stressful it felt like Lauren was a constant stream of support, and I was one for her (I hope, anyway). It felt great. There were many instances where, despite the fact that we had never met, it felt like she was more than just a friend. I never told her that, of course, but it did.

Before our meeting, I did a bit of research into others who had met their online friends for the first time and what the experience was like. While I was beyond excited to finally meet her, I was also very, very afraid. Many aspects of this trip scared me. For one, Lauren loves to drink and even works at a brewery. I don’t drink alcohol at all. I worried it would make her feel strange drinking around me. I worried that maybe we wouldn’t actually like each other in person, at least not as much as we did over text. Finally, I was concerned that our friendship wouldn’t survive the meeting. There’s something special about having a friend you’ve never met. A certain secrecy surrounds them. Would we lose that which made our relationship unique? I had so many doubts. I carried them all the way to New Orleans and Minneapolis.

The excitement of meeting Lauren kept me awake on several occasions far longer than I would have liked. I was okay with that. Seeing the countdown tweets decrement each day reminded me how close I was to living a dream. I only hoped that it was a dream for Lauren, too. Before long, January 8 arrived.

One of the most significant text exchanges we've ever had

One of the most significant text exchanges we’ve ever had

I spent more time that morning getting ready to travel than I had on any previous morning in recent memory. I had to look my best. I was meeting the girl to whom I had given the better part of the last year. Our meeting was delayed about four hours because of brutal weather conditions in Chicago and Minneapolis. It didn’t do much to calm my nerves. After all, as much as I knew Lauren, I was still meeting her for the first time. It’s a strange dynamic. The delay felt painful, as if some higher power was trying to drag this out as long as possible. The taxi to the runway felt like it took forever. But I was soon on my way to Minneapolis; to Lauren.

Landing in Minneapolis and just walking out of the gate was an event in itself. For the first time, we were in the same place, separated by just yards and feet. Admittedly, I tried to prolong the meeting myself by going to baggage claim first and then finding Lauren. But this poor girl had waited far longer than she should have. I had to find her, and find her I did.

The tall, beautiful blonde-haired girl with gorgeous blue eyes and an even prettier smile. I found her. I embraced her and I really didn’t want to let go. I finally had my Lauren.

All the initial awkwardness I was warned about didn’t exist between us. It was like old friends meeting for yet another time. That night we went out shopping for a bit, had dinner, and made the hour trip home.

There were so many instances during which I just looked at Lauren in disbelief. I couldn’t believe it was really her walking next to me, sitting next to me, talking to me. There were times when I couldn’t believe I was sitting in her beloved galactic blue Jetta (which is quite a stunning car, really). Surreal is the only word I can use to describe what I felt over the four short days together.

The organizer Lauren and her team designed for her class. She had one made for me with my initials engraved. On top, a pamphlet from the Leinenkugel brewery where she works.

The organizer Lauren and her team designed for her class. She had one made for me with my initials engraved. On top, a pamphlet from the Leinenkugel brewery where she works.

While together, we watched quite a bit of Netflix. Something as simple as sitting on the same couch in the same room and watching the same thing together was significant in itself. We had watched so much apart so this was something I had truly relished.

Before going to Wisconsin, many of my friends remarked that there was “nothing to see there.” I truly enjoyed myself. From the Leinenkugel brewery (where Lauren works) to the snow-covered plains and small, far away towns, Wisconsin has an identity of its own. For someone from the hustle and bustle of southeastern Pennsylvania who’s grown up in and is used to life in the city of Philadelphia, Wisconsin was welcome change. Everyone seemed kinder and more personable. The towns with their French or Native American names seemed further apart and quaint. It was hard to believe that I was even still in the same country. But I would go back to Wisconsin again, and just because Lauren lives there, but because it truly is a beautiful place.

I knew that Sunday was going to come quickly and it did. It’s always difficult saying “goodbye” to a loved one but it’s even more difficult when you don’t know if or when you’ll see the other person again. It was a tough morning.

Lauren and I are very different people. She’s very much a typical American girl as much as she is different. She’s from a quaint town in Wisconsin and has lived a fairly normal life. I’m the son of immigrants from India and grew up in the metro area that is Philadelphia. She’s a fan of Aaron Rodgers. I’m a fan of Roger Federer. She loves comedies and reality TV. I love fiction, adventure, fantasy, and science fiction. Lauren’s car is her pride, her obsession. She spends hours tweaking it, cleaning it, and making it, well, whatever you make cars. I spend hours perfecting my serve, getting the toss right, the speed right, making sure no one can tell where that ball’s going to land. Lauren and I represent two different but equal sides of America. It was a mutual passion for BlackBerry that brought us together and, even though neither of us used a BlackBerry when we met, our relationship evolved past our mutual interest through a medium still
in its relative infancy. We’re two people from two very different fragments of reality, but we have a real relationship. A real friendship.

When I reflect back to what Lauren initially started out to me, it amazes me that we’ve become as close as we have. If someone had told me just six months I ago that I’d actually go to Wisconsin to see her, I’d have doubted them to no end. But even then, the signs were there. I changed because of Lauren. I became open to things, media, ideas, relationships I had been so closed off to before I knew her. She changed me. I had never worked harder for any relationship in my life before I met her. She’s made me a better person. She’s made me want to become a better me. That’s when you know you really care about someone.

A lot of you already know Lauren. If you’ve never met her, she is one of the happiest people you can meet. It’s not a false happiness, either. She exudes a general content with life. She’s the kind of person you want to take with you everywhere you go because she can find fun in even the most mundane activities. Life is just more fun and enjoyable with Lauren. She’s also much, much prettier in person. She’s gorgeous in her photos, but they don’t do her complete justice. What stuck me though was how memorable her laugh was. I’d heard her laugh so many times on the phone, but hearing her laugh in person is so different. When she laughs, you want to laugh with her. It’s so genuine.

I’ve learned so much, from Lauren, from going to see her, from even just talking to her. She is one of my closest friends and she means more to me than most people know, including her. I am forever grateful to her for all she did for me over those four short days, including just allowing me to go see her. Life’s different now that there’s no countdown to look ahead to completing, but I do hope that one day I see her again and I cannot wait until that day arrives. I’m so glad of all the friends I’ve made through Twitter and BBM, this is the one that’s grown the most and the one I took a leap on. I would jump on the opportunity to do a trip to Wisconsin again.

There are times when I wonder that, had Lauren and I met under more conventional circumstances, whether we’d be as close as we are or even friends at all. It speaks volumes about the power of social media and the technology we have available to us. An entire friendship formed through services like BBM, Twitter, Facebook, text, Facetime, iMessage, email, and even traditional mailing before actually meeting in person. It’s amazing to think that, because of the technology for which Lauren and I share a deep passion, a girl from Wisconsin and a boy from Pennsylvania, both from two very different frames of reality, can form as close a bond as we have.

Recently, whether it be at work, on the train, or at school, people complain to me about social media and technology. They claim that the relationships formed through those mediums “aren’t real,” and are “meaningless” and “impersonal.” They back off a bit when they later ask what I study in university and I tell them “computer science.” They feel as though they had just insulted my livelihood. But that’s not what I take offense to. It’s this relationship I’ve built that takes the hit. This is what I feel compelled to defend. This is why I can never agree with those people.

What I’d like anyone reading this to take away from this is that there is nothing wrong with forming a friendship through social media. In today’s world, it’s incredibly normal and don’t allow anyone to tell you otherwise. And if you’re really as close as Lauren and I are, then I encourage anyone to take the chance and meet their online friends. As I mentioned before, I read a lot of blogs and personal experiences before solidifying my resolve to see Lauren. This is me paying it forward. Social media is an incredible means of communication. For her, it’s an indispensible tool in her field of study. For me, it’s not only what I dream to work on and to improve, it’s what helped me meet and come to know someone else whose life I can put ahead of my own.

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Exploring My Passions: Why #TeamBlackBerry is More than a Hashtag to Me

Everyone has defining qualities, quirks, etc. that make them, well,  them.  Many of us have certain things we want others to associate with us, be it our hair style/color, the way we dress, the TV shows or movies we watch, or what have you.  In this age of mobile technology and warring tech giants, the more “involved” of us use the smartphone we carry to be a part of the definition of who we are.  Anyone who frequents Twitter, at some point, may have seen a reference to a “#TeamiPhone,” a “#TeamAndroid,” or a “#TeamWindowsPhone” (maybe not that last one), signifying the user’s device or operating system (OS) of choice.  Those are the mainstream; the ones everyone talks about and the type of devices you’d mostly see on the streets of your locality.

As a technology enthusiast, I can say that I do choose to engage in the “#TeamX” and am quite fond of it.  However, as you may have guessed from the title, I don’t use any of the three aforementioned mobile platforms.

I use a BlackBerry (namely, a BlackBerry Z30).

No, the platform of my choice is far more special to me and also incredibly meaningful beyond just the phone I use.  It’s why I’m proud to tweet with the hashtag #TeamBlackBerry.

However, in order to understand why I am so attached to my BlackBerry, naturally, it’s imperative to go back to when this affection began and explore how it grew.

Back in 2009, I was 16-years-old. I was on my second cell phone and my family was due to upgrade.  The smartphone industry was still mostly tied to corporate users as Apple’s iPhone hadn’t, as of that time, taken off yet.  BlackBerry (RIM, at that time, rather), was beginning to wane, but holding firmly.  Business users and many smartphone users still preferred BlackBerry devices.  Coming from a flip phone and liking the form factor, I decided to continue with that particular style. My mom had brought home a work-issued BlackBerry Curve quite sometime ago at that point and it fascinated me.  The thought of carrying your emails and having a web

BlackBerry Pearl Flip, courtesy of CrackBerry.com

BlackBerry Pearl Flip, courtesy of CrackBerry.com

browser all in your pocket was amazing.  Then, there was the full, physical keyboard.  I loved it, but I didn’t like the form.  Luckily for me, that was the year BlackBerry released the Pearl Flip 8220/8230. It was everything I had expected and more.  It was the perfect combination of everything I loved about flip phones with all I envied when using my mom’s Curve.  I had become a smartphone user.  But, I had, inadvertently, become part of something that would become so important to me, as well.  But it wasn’t mine to see just yet.

Two years later, in the summer of 2011, I had just graduated high school and was on the cusp of becoming a college freshman.  It was time to upgrade.  By this point, the Apple/Android battle was in full-swing and it was becoming obvious.  Whereas in 2009 I was still seeing feature phones carried by most around me, I was now seeing either an iPhone or an Android phone.  Naturally, the question of whether I should continue being a BlackBerry user reared its head.  My Pearl was good to me during the two prior years and in that time, I had become entrenched in the CrackBerry.com forums as a frequent member.  I figured “Why abandon a brand and a company who’s products I enjoy using?” So I waited until RIM released its 2011 BlackBerry line-up (BlackBerry 7 devices) of devices that year.  One day after AT&T had the

BlackBerry Torch 9810, courtesy of BerryReview.com

BlackBerry Torch 9810, courtesy of BerryReview.com

Torch 9810 online, one was on its way to my house.  This time, my parents and sister also jumped in on the smartphone revolution and decided to get iPhones.

October 2011 was the year RIM experienced its major outage (which you can read about here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/12/us-blackberry-idUSTRE79B24Y20111012).  Being a BlackBerry user, it was difficult to ignore, even though I, personally, felt little disruption from it at all.  But the mistrust was growing.  RIM was facing increasing pressure from Apple and Android to deliver something new.  It was easy to forget that BlackBerry 7 was an evolution from the same OS that ran on BlackBerry’s pagers from in 1999.  That’s software that’s 12-years-old.   From a purely software perspective, it couldn’t run the same kinds of applications that ran on Apple’s iOS (released in 2007) or Google’s Android (2008), regardless of how powerful the hardware specifications were.

RIM’s saviour (at that time) was its “BBX” platform.  BBX was intended to be a brand new operating system that makes use of the QNX microkernel, developed by QNX Software Systems and acquired by RIM in 2010.  QNX has a long history of being an incredibly reliable and stable operating system used in embedded systems like nuclear power plants and in the automotive industry.  However, it was far from complete and its only test in the consumer market was on RIM’s tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, released in

lazaridis_playbook_techvibes

Former RIM CEO Mike Lazaridis unveils the BlackBerry PlayBook, courtesy of techvibes.com

early 2011.  The ill-fated but deeply-beloved tablet was marred by broken promise after broken promise.  Initially thought to have much potential as an “iPad-killer,” releasing a tablet without apps for mail, contacts, and calendar/events was far too fatal.  Even in October 2011, it was clear that BBX (later renamed “BlackBerry 10”)  was far away.  In the meantime, RIM had to compete with Apple and Google with an outdated platform running on outdated hardware.

After an eventful start to 2012 and under a new CEO, following a bleak end to 2011 (where journalists were predicting the end for RIM),  I purchased my own PlayBook.  It was at this point that I finally began to see that I was a faithful BlackBerry user.  I had purchased a year-old tablet that fell flat, sales-wise, and was said to be avoided.  I bought it, still, under the promise that OS 2.0 (the update that brings mail, calendar, contacts, and the ability to run Android applications via a runtime) was to be released early that year.  Surely enough, that update did come and PlayBook owners like myself loved it.  RIM had finally delivered on a long-standing promise and this one little gesture gave many of us hope that under newly-minted CEO Thorsten Heins, RIM would continue.

BlackBerry World, an annual conference held by RIM to announce new products, services, etc., in 2012 was unforgettable for the simple event that it was our first glimpse at BlackBerry 10. It excited all of us BlackBerry fans, whether we were there at the conference or not. It was familiar, but different (in a good way).  It was what so many liked about their BlackBerrys, with a focus on emails and communications, with all the capabilities of its competitors.  It could run all the same games and apps iPhones and Android phones could run.  Writers and journalists who had been critical of RIM leading up to the conference were actually praising what they saw.  They believed in RIM. Clutching my Torch, I knew it was only a matter of time before I could have BlackBerry 10 for myself.

heins2012_eweek

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announced the BlackBerry Dev Alpha, the first BlackBerry 10 prototype device at BlackBerry World 2012, courtesy of eWeek.com

At BlackBerry’s fall developer conference later that year, we saw even more of BlackBerry 10. The more I saw of it, the more I fell in love with it, and I couldn’t wait to see more. Positive sentiment towards BlackBerry and RIM was growing, and, after a year or more of negativity, it was a welcome sight. A slight hiccup came in the form of a small delay (which was much smaller than was initially made out to be). By the end of 2012, a date was set: 30 January 2013. On that day, BlackBerry 10 would be officially unveiled to the public at a huge media event in New York City, held contemporaneously with several, much smaller events globally. The countdown began.

The week leading up to and the morning of 30 January was an exciting period of time. After having to sit and watch while numerous other companies like Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Google, etc. announced new devices and products, BlackBerry users have had to sit and wait. But on that morning (skipping class, by the way), I, along with ardent BlackBerry fans across the world, found one way or another to watch CEO Thorsten Heins announce that not only was “RIM” no more (changed to “BlackBerry”), but also announce the first two BlackBerry 10 smartphones: the BlackBerry Z10 and Q10. Soon after announcing the devices themselves, he dropped the bombshell which shattered my excitement.

Heins_blackberry10_launch_computerworld

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announced the BlackBerry Z10 and BlackBerry Q10 on 30 January 2013, courtesy of ComputerWorld.com

What was rumored to be a “global” release turned out to be a global launch instead. Canada, the U.K., and many other regions were slated to have devices available within days or weeks of the event. However, Mr. Heins could give no solid U.S. release date; only an “expectation” of a March release. Perhaps I was foolish for thinking that maybe, just maybe, I’d have a BlackBerry Z10 within the next week or two. But, alas, I waited.

In early March, AT&T finally set their release date at 22 March, beating every other major U.S. carrier to the punch. I put down my preorder for $550 (my first purchase of a phone outright, as well) and on the 22, I had what I had waited, really, more than year to finally have. BlackBerry 10, in my hands, was much more than I had anticipated. I had trouble keeping up with the pace of the device. Everything was fast, fluid, and beautiful. When I held it in my hands for the first time, and every subsequent time after that, I knew I was holding the best phone on the market. I showed it off to everyone at every opportunity. I was proud to carry my Z10.

Questions surrounding BlackBerry’s future arose again in August 2013, when the company actively sought a major change in strategy. And, once again, those familiar “Is BlackBerry dead?” questions were asked. I was asked those questions when I had my Torch in 2011 and much of 2012. However, at least then I could always respond with “Well, BlackBerry 10 is coming soon.” But in August 2013, BlackBerry 10 was out everywhere and the company was still finding itself in a precarious situation. Still, despite that, I knew that, no matter what was being said by journalists, media pundits, and stock analysts, the phone in my hand was the best that could be done.

Those questions were put to a rest later that autumn through some business deals that aren’t really necessary to get into right now. However, as a result of said deals, BlackBerry was able to maintain business as usual (for the most part), though under a new CEO, John Chen.

Fall 2013 also marked a pointed change for me, as well.  During this time, I had begun to expand my presence on social media a bit, namely Twitter. I wasn’t particularly good at using the platform, but I eventually accommodated and found it to be an incredibly versatile service. In addition to being able to gather news and information in real time, Twitter seemed to enable users with common interests to interact. In fact, it even seemed to promote this. Having always participated in anonymous forums to live my BlackBerry passions (as in my everyday life, I am surrounded by users of other platforms), I found Twitter to be my new social network of choice.

As I worked my way through the awkward stages of establishing oneself on any social network, I found many other BlackBerry users who, like me, shared a common passion for, not only the devices we carried, by for anything and everything to do with the brand. I felt so at home when talking to and interacting with these people.

Up until this point, I’ve yet to mention one quintessential BlackBerry feature; BBM. BlackBerry Messenger, BlackBerry’s own social network that was present on every BlackBerry I’ve owned since my Pearl. It was an app I thought was utterly useless. I never used it because I never saw the point of using it. Until September 2013, I could only use it with other BlackBerry users, and I didn’t know of many (and the ones I did know of didn’t use the service either). I didn’t get BBM, that is, until I started using Twitter.

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announcing BBM for iOS and Android at BlackBerry World 2013, courtesy of DCLMoible.com

Former BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins announcing BBM for iOS and Android at BlackBerry World 2013, courtesy of DCLMoible.com

For those unfamiliar with BBM, every BlackBerry device (and now BlackBerry ID) is assigned a unique 8-digit hexadecimal code called a “PIN”. BBM is a chat application (which is now more of a social network) that makes use of those PINs to send messages to other BlackBerrys. Now that BBM is on iOS, Android, and (soon to be) Windows Phone, the idea of “PIN-sharing” has grown. How is this tied to Twitter? PIN sharing on Twitter is the most secure way, in my opinion, to exchange contact information. BBM allows users to accept or reject any user that sends them an invitation to chat. One could tweet out their PIN and only accept the users they want to chat with while rejecting the ones they don’t know.

Once I began to interact with other BlackBerry enthusiasts on Twitter, my BBM contact list grew from 0 to over 50 rapidly. These people were more than simply “BlackBerry users.” They were real people that I was forming real relationships with over a common interest we both shared. To me, it was incredible.

In September, BlackBerry released the “Z30″; the successor the Z10 with its main improvements being a much larger 5” display and much better battery life. Unfortunately, this device was released only to Verizon in the United States, leaving AT&T users with little option but to wait for a possible later release date or simply import an international model. My opportunity to get a Z30 finally arose in late-March when BlackBerry began selling the device directly to customers on its site. In order to acquire one, though, I was forced to make the difficult decision to sell my beloved Z10. However, after much encouragement from my “Twitter friends,” I did so and purchased a Z30.

From the day I placed an order for my Z30 to the day it arrived, those so-called “Twitter friends” made me feel incredible simply for purchasing a device. I felt that it was almost absurd to get that excited over someone whom they didn’t even know getting a new phone. I was in both disbelief but, at the same time, utterly humbled.

“How could people I don’t even know care so much?” I thought to myself.

It caused me to shift the way I thought about people, about social interactions, about Twitter, and about this “TeamBlackBerry.” I realized my own way of thinking was absurd and archaic, even. I was using some nonsense moniker like “Twitter friends” to describe REAL people that cared about me. They no longer felt like strangers. I stopped making a line between my “friends” and my “Twitter friends.”  I no longer have “Twitter friends.” Instead, I have friends I happened to have met on Twitter. I talk to them everyday in the same manner I talk to the friends I’ve personally met and have grown-up with. There is no distinction. In fact, I’d go as far to say that many of them are more involved than many of the friends I’ve met. To me, it’s something I could have never foreseen and I’m so happy to have these people.

It’s almost unfathomable for me to believe that I’ve formed friendships with people all across the globe and the only initial common factor was that we both used BlackBerrys. And, to top it off, I cannot even begin to describe how much I love and cherish the members of #TeamBlackBerry with whom I’ve formed friendships. They are, honestly, no different to the friends I can play sports or have coffee with everyday.

#TeamBlackBerry, as a whole, has been through quite its fair share of ups and downs. At one point, its-no-our future was called into serious question. Our friends, colleagues, parents, really everyone asked whether we’d soon be forced to part with our beloved devices. Those questions arose in 2011. Despite many journalists’ predictions about RIM’s imminent “death”, today, three years later, BlackBerry stands proud. Even more proud than BlackBerry are its fans, members of #TeamBlackBerry. All of us, rallying around our device-maker of choice, our brand of choice, the friends we’ve made.

I was once asked whether I was embarrassed to be carrying a BlackBerry. I never was. Today, I am proud to carry my Z30 and stand behind this company which has given me much more than a series of smartphones. That’s why owning a BlackBerry means more to me than most could imagine.

That’s why #TeamBlackBerry is more than a hashtag to me.

That’s why I’m #TeamBlackBerry.

Connect with me on Twitter @DavidBethala