September 28, 2008


The Borg have creeped me out from day one. But it’s become more than just the creepiness of a TV show. There is a startling bit of the Borg right around some corner you’re likely to turn next week.

When someone with a Bluetooth in their ear turns toward me and sweeps me with that little blue light, I get the chills. They make me think of a proto-Borg:

Though I don’t remember seeing Bluetooths when STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and the Borg premiered in 1987, they seem to be an echo of the idea of the Borg. A Bluetooth phone may not be permanently implanted like an insulin pump, artificial hip or a pacemaker – but how far away can that day be?

The Borg slogan, “Resistance is futile” – unemotional and mechanical – was chilling. The Borg seemed to tap into a deeply held fear of technophillic America – that our technology, in particular our electronics, might overwhelm us and change us into monsters. It seems that the physical integration of devices into our bodies is the next step and that resistance is futile.

Most people reading this know the ST story line: the Borg appeared, unstoppable. But through interaction with Humans who set them free to be self-determining individuals, the Borg were defeated and enabled to retake their “humanity”. Despite the technological, mental, military and organizational advantages of the Borg collective, the flesh-and-blood Federation (in the form of Admiral and Captain Janeway) defeated the Borg. Even though vastly more advanced civilizations like the one Guinan belonged to, fell before them and were assimilated, the Human-led Federation prevailed. How could that happen? What quality did Humans possess that allowed them to succeed where others had failed miserably? What was it that allowed the Federation to emerge victorious over the Borg when so many others failed? ST never tells us.

Life’s triumph over Mechanism in ST is a hopeful message. We hope that we can control our technology, to prevent it from overwhelming the “Human virtues” of love, self-determination, individuality, faith in a higher being, reproduction and the appreciation of art and beauty. Certainly, the Federation’s triumph over the Borg points to the hope that we can overcome the temptation to efficiency and remain Human still.

But is it reasonable that we will be able to prevent ourselves from becoming proto-Borg? My son is working to become a paramedic. The range of technological devices he has at his fingertips is amazing and the real – technological tools in the average 21st Century emergency room are unmatched even by the special effects glitz of a high definition doctor show. Americans have become dependent on external technology. Are we in danger of internalizing our electronics as the ultimate in efficiency? Are we on the way to becoming real-life proto-Borg? Only time will tell. It might be good to keep this clip of the Borg firmly in mind as we wend our way into the future so that we might avoid becoming Borg ourselves and make sure we find that undefined “thing” that allowed the Federation to assimilate the Borg:

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