Alan Moore and I met with the Peter Miles, the CEO of SubTV UK last week in London. We discussed youth and mobiles (among many other things). Peter had the perfect four-word description for young people today with their mobile phones and SMS: "They are the Borg."
I blogged about it at length at www.communities-dominate.blogs.com but here the brief version. Contrasting all other network technologies and communication used by the youth, such community sites on the web, multiplayer gaming, IM instant messenger services, and e-mail etc., to SMS text messaging, only one enables the youth to be like "the Borg" are in the TV series Star Trek Next Generation (and Voyager) - and that is SMS.
IM is the closest to SMS. Americans like to think that when their youth uses IM, it is the same (or even superior) behaviour to what European and Asian youth do with SMS. Not true. Here is where this metaphor helps to clearly establish the difference. And obviously I am not discussing IM on mobile, I mean IM on fixed internet, broadband and WiFi networks.
In the Star Trek series, the Borg are a half-android population spanning the galaxy, in which every member of the Borg collective is permanently connected to every other member of their society. The Star Trek heroes, by contrast, have an excellent wireless networkn upon their spaceship (everybody connected to everybody else) and long-range communications to various planets, other space ships, and depending on conditions, to "away teams" on a given planet. Invariably the episode storylines involve Star Trek heroes becoming disconnected from their communication networks, and part of the episode is used to re-establish contact.
The Star Trek characters are like our other networks today, the web, multiplayer online games, e-mail and IM. You have powerful communication when YOU are connected AND when YOUR FRIEND is ALSO simultaneously connected. This is not permanent (for all). You are not connected to the web when you are in a bus, in a train, taking a bathroom break for the computer, or go to bed. IM is not with you at those times. But - you do take your mobile phone with you everywhere, it means that even when you are out of reach of the other networks (the IM in still on and connected at your PC on your desk, but you went to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee).
SMS is the most connected of all of our messaging networks, and twice as many people - 1.3 Billion - are using it than the next most popular messaging tool (e-mail has 668 Million individual users, who have 1.2 Billion mailboxes in use at end of 2005). Everybody connected, and the only messaging connection that is permanently connected, virtually everywhere. Yes, we take it to the bathroom and physically to bed with us. We don't carry our laptop to the bathroom or (nightly) to the bed.
That is how the youth, using SMS, is like the Borg. They are permanently connected to their "collective" or community or their mates and friends. At all times. And anyone who is not addicted to SMS, is as much at a disadvantage as the Star Trek crew are, when they have spotty coverage, sometimes online, sometimes not - and more importantly, their mates and friends are also at times unconnected - and the timing of this unconnectedness of our friends is unpredictable.
Peter Miles had examples of what all the youth do with SMS, I think the most revealing is that the (UK university age) youth regularly send SMS text messages to each other while in the same room. Yes, I could speak to my mate, but then the others would hear. Maybe its a rude joke, or maybe a personal secret, like I am attracted to this girl here, or something else secretive. That is what SMS allows - private communication of a conspiring nature. An exclusive club even when among friends. Sending text messages to each other while sitting at the same table, etc. This is a radical change in behaviour not witnessed with any previous generation. It is what we write about in our book with Alan Moore. It is totally behaviour of Generation-C for Community. It is as different from previous generations as the frightening Borg was from humankind in Star Trek.
And one last note along these lines. The Borg always repeated only one line when the Starship Enterprise crew attempted to communicate with them. The Borg replied with the chilling statement: You will be assimilated. This too I think totally applies to SMS. Sooner or later everybody will get onboard. Anyone reading this site should be a regular user of SMS. If you are not, then get with the programme: SMS is the fastest form of communication ever and the sooner you learn to use it, the more you can gain from it. To quote the Borg: "It is useless to resist - you will be assimilated."
Tomi Ahonen / HatRat :-)