The digital juggernaut: Resistance isn’t futile!


Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, after his assimilation by the Borg.

Whenever I see people walking down the street wearing those little Bluetooth headsets, I think of the Borg.

Okay, really… first I think that they must be crazy people, because when I grew up, if you saw someone walking down the street alone talking, it meant that they weren't getting the right meds.

But then once I do notice the headset, I think Borg.

To summarize the concept of Borg quickly, I'll excerpt a passage here from the page for Borg on Wikipedia, as I trust Trekkers to vehemently enforce the accuracy of that entry — and if they don't, well, there's not a whole lot at stake here. It's science-fiction, folks. (Or is it?)

The Borg are a fictional pseudo-race of cybernetic organisms depicted in the Star Trek universe. The Borg have become a symbol in popular culture for any juggernaut against which "resistance is futile." The Borg manifest as cybernetically enhanced humanoid drones of multiple species, organized as an interconnected collective, the decisions of which are made by a hive mind,
linked to subspace domain. (…) They operate solely toward the
fulfilling of one purpose: to "add the biological and technological
distinctiveness of other species to their own" in pursuit of perfection. This is achieved through forced assimilation,
a process which transforms individuals and technology into Borg,
enhancing, and simultaneously controlling, individuals by implanting or
appending synthetic components.

In the Star Trek universe, assimilation by the Borg is generally
assumed to represent an enhancement of individual capabilities. But the price of
enhancement is control, the subjugation of all individual wills to a collective
mind, which runs counter to most of our cultural notions about what it
means to be human.

The parallels to the real world — where rhetoric about the supposed virtues and desirability of being constantly connected now dominate the social, not to mention commercial, discourse — seem obvious. Digital media as "juggernaut." Mobile technologies as those wires that Picard-as-Borg wears on his head (above). Like all good sci-fi, it's only a slight exaggeration.

There are some qualitative differences, especially that our assimilation is not forced and that few of us are resisting, because we're persuaded that being linked to subspace domain is a good thing. (I'm trying hard to avoid the word "hegemony" here, and also "false consciousness," and also references to The Matrix and Children of Men.) Still, I find it hard to believe that, without systemic coercion, people would want to wear those silly headsets and converse with absent others wherever they go. Especially when the absentees are bosses or clients, which they often seem to be.

On the tangential topic of fashion accessories: I've gotta say that, despite all the intelligence it has assimilated, the Borg has tailored a neckline that looks just as uncomfortable as the Starfleet uniforms. Eminently tuggable.


  1. There were poets long before there was paper, and there will be long after our modern society declines into post-apocalyptic splendor. Social networking is just gossip by the village well in disguise. It’s all the same human graces and flaws with different window dressing. Does Captain Picard reading a sonnet sound any different from a book than from a kindle?

  2. Hopefully, post-apocalyptic splendor will be conducive to poets! Most of what we consider “good poetry” was written before the digital age, and even before the broadcasting age. Poetry would seem to require time for idleness and contemplation, and today’s culture of busy-ness and distraction doesn’t offer much of that.

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