An interview on NPR Tuesday morning about the evolution of technology caught my attention with this opening:
JOE PALCA, BYLINE: In the TV show "Star Trek: The Next Generation," the ultimate evil enemy threatening to destroy humanity was an alien species known as the Borg Collective.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION")
PATRICK STEWART: (as Locutus) I am Locutus [of] Borg. Resistance is futile.
PALCA: One of the things that made the Borg so lethal was that they had a collective consciousness. Every Borg was connected neurally with every other Borg, so they could share knowledge.
CORINNA LATHAN: If you could spin the Borg Collective in a positive way, that's almost exactly how I envision the future [Joe Palca, "Envisioning the Future with Inventor Cori Lathan," NPR: Morning Edition, 2013.05.07].
Stop right there. There is no spinning the Borg in a positive way. Resistance is not futile; it is necessary.
Lathan envisions machines that could automatically read our physiological and emotional states and broadcast that information to everyone else's brains. We have a machine like that now: the human face. It's far from perfect. It has limited range, and skilled users can send false signals.
But think about how often you use that machine every day. At any given moment, how many faces can you read? How many faces do you need to read? My largest French class currently has 17 students (ugh! prime number! How's a teacher supposed to divide kids into equal groups?). I can scan the room, get an idea of who's got a question, who's worn out, who's paying attention, and who's playing Tetris. But could I make practical use of data overlaid next to each child's face on my Google goggles? If I receive all that supplementary information on some near-optical display or an in-cranium hummingbird, how much attention is drawn away from my peripheral vision and my general situational awareness of the classroom?
I revel in the near-ubiquity and omniscience of our current Internet. I like being able to find out almost any fact I want in seconds. The South Dakota Blogosphere couldn't do what it does if it didn't have access to such an extensive global library of media clips, research, and other texts to highlight and link and incorporate into arguments.
But we don't turn on the firehose and drink everything. We divert tiny streams of information from the global flood of data and say, "This is worth looking at closely." Out of the countless things demanding our attention, we point to just a handful.
The same would happen with Lathan's envisioned Borg consciousness. We'd have the potential to know anything about anyone's location, mood, concerns, etc. But barring a major leap in evolution, we'd still have the ability to pay attention to only a few strands of that global human tapestry.
And we'd only want to pay attention to a few strands. My daughter is probably already developing a complex from seeing me so often intensely scowling at the computer screen while she waits for it to register with me that she could use some raisin bran. 10% of the people in our lives deserve 90% of our attention.
Seeing young lovers tweeting on a date is bad enough. Seeing them gaze blankly at each other while processing a flood of techno-telepathic inputs from a thousand elsewhere Facebook friends is worse. Technologically enhanced collective consciousness has its place, but not in most of our human interactions.
The Borg know no love. Let that collective consciousness flow into your brain unimpeded, and neither will you.
Resistance is essential.
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Related: My wife is gnashing her teeth over a seminary assignment to read a whole bunch of Wikipedia articles. Among her complaints is that Wikipedia isn't written very well. It has lots of information, but since it's written by committee, it has no voice, no identity. It sounds like the Borg.
Access to lots of data is great, but we learn through storytelling. And stories must be told with a unique voice.