CNN: All Thumbs

We were watching CNN this afternoon, when who appeared but the only man referred to as “doctor” more often than Bill Frist: Sanjay Gupta. Gupta, CNN’s medical correspondent, was bringing us important news: We have entered the Age of the BlackBerry Thumb. And what exactly is that? It seems that when you type too often on a BlackBerry, a portable email device and cell phone, your thumb starts to hurt.

Yeah, that’s about it.

But that didn’t stop Gupta, whose segment on BlackBerry thumb first ran yesterday. First, he introduced us to Bette R. Keltner, who had such a bad case of BlackBerry thumb that she had to give hers up. (The BlackBerry, not the thumb.) That name sounded familiar, so we ran it through LexisNexis, and, low and behold, Keltner had been in the news Sunday as well. In fact, she was in a story that ran on the front page of the Washington Post.

A story about BlackBerry thumb.

What a coincidence.

It’s not the greatest journalistic crime in the world to steal a story idea and then elaborate on it. But BlackBerry thumb? We’ve known that pressing down on something with your thumb too often can make it hurt ever since we got addicted to Donkey Kong back in the 80s. Even if BlackBerry thumb is for real (more about that in a moment), it isn’t exactly a national phenomenon. Less than 3 million people use the device, a substantial percentage of whom live in the Northeast corridor. Many of them, in fact, work in journalism. It’s safe to say several work for CNN and the Washington Post. This is carrying “write what you know” to an extreme. We look forward to CNN and the Post’s stories on the dangers of drinking 26 cups of stale coffee a day in an airless newsroom.

One other little thing we should mention: Perhaps anticipating this exercise in navel-gazing, WebMD back in January ran a skeptical article on BlackBerry thumb headlined “BlackBerry Thumb: Real Illness or Just Dumb?” Let’s see what the piece has to say:

In fact, none of the hand experts who spoke with WebMD has seen a single patient with BlackBerry thumb.

“I haven’t seen it,” says [hand surgeon Prosper] Benhaim.

“I haven’t seen any patients with this,” says [assistant professor of orthopaedics Gary] McGillivary.

“Nobody has yet been referred to me with BlackBerry thumb,” says [director of the repetitive strain injury center and supervisor of occupational medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Presbyterian Medical Center David A.] Allan.”

Sure, one can get a repetitive stress injury from too much BlackBerrying, but that would seem to fall under the Department of the Obvious. You get a repetitive stress injury from too much of pretty much anything. Gupta must have known the segment was fast getting wobbly legs; he fills it out by telling us that “people at CNN are so addicted to [Blackberries], they jokingly refer to them as ‘crackberries.’” (Ugh.) And, in the end, he jauntily throws what is presumably a stunt BlackBerry up in the air, catches it with a smirk, then assures us he’ll continue “happily clicking away.”

Good to know, Sanjay. Now we’d like those two minutes of our life back.

Brian Montopoli and Paul McLeary

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.