Neil McNicholas: The Borg are here and they’ve got our number

FANS of Star Trek will be familiar with The Borg, which Wikipedia define as “a collection of cybernetically-enhanced humanoid drones of multiple species organised into a collective hive-mind linked by subspace radio.” The Borg are a terrifying threat to all who encounter them and they are alive and well in our society – we know them as mobile phone users.

The recent debacle at Sainsbury’s is just the tip of the iceBorg – as subsequent letters to this newspaper, and Jayne Dowle’s recent article, prove. In fact it was the subject of a letter I wrote to the Yorkshire Post some time ago after experiencing a customer in a bank chatting away on his mobile while being served by the teller who, like that assistant in Sainsbury’s, would have been justified in pointing out the rudeness of his behaviour.

We now have at least one generation that is absolutely incapable of functioning without being in touch with the universe at all times. Mostly, of course, they think they are the centre of that universe, hence the disregard for everyone else.

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Most of us priests now have to have signs on the doors coming into church asking people to ensure their mobiles are switched off. Of course few people take any notice because no one reads any more – and there is little or no concept that it is totally inappropriate for phones to be going off in the middle of a service.

And so, knowing that no one will have taken any notice of the signs, you then have to ask that phones be switched off but there will still be somebody who thinks the request applies to everyone else except them – because in their universe they are far too important for such considerations and their world might end if they were out of touch even for half an hour.

But The Borg are all around us. You see them with one hand permanently to their ear, or meandering along the pavement madly texting, oblivious to the world around them including other pedestrians swerving to get out of their way. You see cyclists riding one-handed, or even no-handed, while chatting on their phones. Mothers with toddlers in pushchairs – not interacting with them, but with the invisible person on the other end of their mobile. You’ll see a couple walking along, presumably with the intention of spending some time together, but one of them will be on their mobile talking to someone else who isn’t even there.

Such people clearly have an obsession with, dare I say an addiction to, their phones – they can’t be anywhere without them, not even for a minute. Everyone is walking along apparently talking to themselves. Once upon a time men in white coats would have been close behind them carrying a jacket with arms that fasten in the back.

The addiction to being in touch with the hive and the hive with them is so bad that people will knowingly and deliberately break the law by driving while on the phone, selfishly putting other people’s lives at risk just so they can have their electronic fix. “We are Borg – resistance is futile”.

I have a mobile – there, I admit it – but it is never switched on and no one has the number anyway. I have it in case the car breaks down or I’m away somewhere and need to check on my elderly ailing parents. A lot of the time I don’t even have it with me – that’s how detached I am from it.

At one time if I was having a conversation with someone and a third party came along and butted in, it would be considered the height of bad manners. Now, a person can be talking to someone and their mobile rings, and immediately the conversation is interrupted while they answer the phone and begin a new conversation with someone who isn’t even there.

If a call is so urgent that it has to be answered, then at least show some social grace and tell the person at the other end that you’ll call them back. Better yet, don’t answer the phone in the first place – the universe won’t end.

Sadly there is far too much rudeness and self-centredness around these days. Good manners, social graces and politeness have gone out of the window. The behaviour of the hive is fast becoming the norm and to be rewarded (as the Sainsbury’s incident shows). The rest of us – those yet to be assimilated into the collective – are fast becoming the odd ones out, but resistance hasn’t yet become completely futile.

• Fr Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Middlesbrough.