I grew up when Star Trek: The Next Generation was popular, and now I’ve lived to see many of their imagined technologies become real. We’re still not quite there on warp drives or teleporters, but we’re getting closer to the holodeck with virtual reality, and we already have touchscreens, computers you can control with your voice, wireless communication that is constantly available, and handheld devices that can do all sorts of things. I’ve lived to see yesterday’s science fiction become today’s reality.
But as I type these words into my handheld device that does all sorts of things, I have to recognise that for all their fulfilled prophecies, Star Trek still misses the mark in some ways. The series predicted many of our technologies, yes, but it didn’t do as well at predicting how we would use them. In the show, you never see ensigns in red shirts bumping into each other in the hallways of the Enterprise because they were scrolling through Facebook. You never see the landing party shooting quick selfies for Instagram on never-before seen planets, or young engineers taking break time TikToks in the hanger deck.
In Star Trek, technology is a tool, and that’s about it. No one uses the teleporter for pranks. No one tells the computer to crank up some tunes. Communication devices don’t buzz constantly with notifications for spam messages, and Starfleet apparently never even thought of selling personal data to advertisers. Even though the crew are surrounded by technology beyond what we have today, their lives don’t seem to be as controlled by it as ours are. When Whoopi Goldberg serves up drinks in Ten Forward, the people at the tables sit down naturally and talk to each other, they don’t stare blankly at their handheld devices.
In fairness to the show’s writers, would anyone have believed them if they had shown the crew paying more attention to computers than they did to each other? I guess getting future technology right was easier than figuring out the humans who would use it.
The truth is stranger than science fiction.