Alan and I wrote about in the book, and regularly talk about the emerging Generation-C, the Community Generation. Gen-C use multiple networks so we see a lot of their behaviour patterns on virtual worlds, IM instant messaging, multiplayer gaming, TV interactivity etc. Those in themselves do not make one a member of Gen-C. It is SMS behaviour that is the distinctive feature of Gen-C, the distinguishing behaviour pattern. It has been difficult to explain why SMS is different from its close cousin, IM instant messaging, for example. We now have the perfect metaphor to illustrate the difference. It comes from the geeky world of Star Trek Next Generation and Voyager TV series, and their supervillains, "the Borg". For the youth with SMS are the Borg. Without SMS they are not the Borg.
Alan and I met with the Peter Miles, the CEO of SubTV here in the UK last week as he was running another event around the Student Music Awards - itself an exciting study in community-generation around youth, live music, TV, music video, internet and of course mobile phones and SMS. We discussed for a while how university students behave today. Peter exclaimed: "They are the Borg!" Being a Star Trek fan myself, it hit me and I knew that now I had the perfect illustration of why SMS differentiates Generation-C from the rest of the population.
First quickly for those of our readers who are not Star Trek fans. The Borg was a race of half-androids, a mixture of humanoid and android abilities, half-robots if you will. They came in immense numbers in enormous spaceships. But they possessed two almost undefeatable abilities: every unit of the Borg collective was connected to every other one, continuously over any distance - and in Star Trek science fiction this meant immediate communication over distances measured in lightyears. And as they were part-robotic and always connected, the Borg could react as a whole entity and regenerate their weapons and systems to counter anything they met, faster than anything the human heroes of Star Trek could hope to do.
Fascinating (as earlier Star Trek character Science Officer Spock would say. Sorry, could not avoid that reference).
So the Borg are always connected to everyone and because of that the community could react faster than any entity not completely connected at all times.
This is it. The heroes of Star Trek, like the members of the Starship Enterprise are like people today on IM Instant Messaging. They have an excellent high speed communication link to everybody, but you have to be onboard the spaceship, or have a communicator - within reach - when on a planet or elsewhere in space. Frequently the Star Trek storylines run around the heroes being out of communication reach. This is like IM. If you are on the network and logged onto your instant messenger - AND your friend is also on, you can chat anywhere at all times. You get the full power and benefit of the network. But you need to be connected to the network at your home computer, or your school computer lab or at your work computer, or on your laptop at a WiFi hotspot. The benefit is powerful, but not permanent. You don't have your instant messenger in the train, in the bus, taking a bathroom break from the computer, or in bed.
The same is true of your your mates - they are not always connected even if you are. There are times you have to alert your friend for example via SMS to join the IM chat. The heroes of Star Trek have a wonderful communication system but it does not reach everywhere. Frequently the heroes are in trouble until they manage to re-establish contact with the starship.
Contrast that to the Borg. Even when in captivity, they are always connected. From anywhere. Their connectedness is in-built to their android systems, you cannot turn them off. They share every experience with the whole Borg community. Because of that, when you hit one of them with a new weapon, the whole Borg community knows about it immediately and can build the countermeasures for the whole Borg as the Star Trek heroes do battle with only the few they encountered.
In this picture the Borg is invincible (and throughout the Star Trek storylines they have been the most dangerous foes of the Federation of Planets). Not because they are part-android. It is because the whole community is always connected and can react as a unit. Just like the Borg, Generation-C today, using SMS on their mobile phones, is always connected. They can send messages, and be reached, while in the train, in the bus, in the bathroom, or in bed, and yes, they are frequently reached via SMS while they are on a computer, videogame etc.
Peter Miles said it so well in explaining why the youth are the Borg. They constantly communicate. With SMS. Anything, anywhere. One of the most amazing aspects is that in a crowd of their peers, at a party, in class, at a pub, etc., Gen-C members will send text messages to their best friend(s) in the same room. To share a private joke, to make an off-colour remark, to be irreverent, to be conspirational. They send text messages even when standing within touching reach of their friend. That is what SMS allows, the excitement of conspiracy. This is private, just between you and me. Even though we sit at this table with six mates, I can send a private thought to my best friend sitting opposite to me.
We totally agree with Peter, the youth, they truly are the Borg.
Which brings me back to the metaphor and perhaps the most frightening part of the Borg. The crew of the Starship Enterprise tried to ask the Borg what do they want. The Borg would not communicate with cultures and planets that they conquerred. They simply broadcast one chilling message to all new peoples and races and planets they found: "You will be assimilated." There was no negotiation, so complete was the Borg's supremacy, that they felt no need to discuss. They simply stated the obvious inevitability - you will be assimilated.
This too, is so true of SMS text messaging. It started as a youth phenomenon in Scandinavia in the mid 1990s. It spread geographically, and it spread across all ages. Today 84% of all mobile phone users in the UK send SMS text messages. That goes from pre-teenagers to retired people. Housewives and husbands. Politicians and businesspeople. In fact most business executives in the UK find SMS the best tool for delivering urgent messages. Already twice as many people on the planet use SMS text messaging (even though each message is charged) compared with the number who use e-mail (where sending each message is free). And many times more users of SMS that those of IM. We have been assimilated.
If you are one of the luddites who is not actively using SMS today, get with the programme, it is as essential to this decade as e-Mail and the internet was to the last decade. Join now, for there is no fighting it. SMS is inevitable. You will be assimilated.