Next time the pressure of life is becoming overbearing, remember some advice from Star Trek; turn on airplane mode and take a moment
I have been on a Star Trek: The Next Generation binge lately (yes, Picard is my Captain) and I cannot help but remain in awe and admiration of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the 24th century — warp drives, star-ships, the elimination of poverty and hunger, an enlightened human race visiting new worlds and civilisations, and as the line goes, “boldly go[ing] where no man has gone before”.
As a sci-fi show, hi-tech concepts and machines are staples of the premise. And yes, it is indeed exciting to know that some of the technology envisioned inside the Star Trek writing room exists today.
Consider your smartphone for a minute: Picard received audio-visual transmissions from his ready room, real-time maps (call it a modern-day Ensign, if you wish), a personal virtual assistant (try asking: “Siri, where is the nearest star base”) and even a medical tricorder-like app to name a few.
These were merely ideas in the 1980s and late-60s but are all completely integrated into our lives today. Chances are, you are reading this from your smartphone.
But between visions of the future and Star Trek gadgets becoming a reality, the show also makes some poignant commentary about technology.
Technology must inspire good
Believable technology was not enough for Roddenberry. Nor did he approve of stories with technology playing the part of villain.
In his TNG Writer/Director’s guide, Roddenberry noted Star Trek’s science fiction element should be thought-provoking and personal, sometimes even a contributing factor in a human dilemma.
My favourite illustration of this is from a second season episode titled, ‘Measure of a Man’. The debate surrounds an android with its data sentience in question — does he have the same privileges and rights as other sentient beings?
Or is ‘HE’ not sentient implying ‘IT’ is Starfleet property?
It is a memorable scene covering the rise of artificial intelligence and also an analogue of how we should treat others we consider to be ‘different’ from us, whatever those categorisations may be.
Technology is great. But sometimes, it is important to turn it all off
A star ship needs 100 per cent reliability from its technology. It is the 24th century after all and the lives of Starship Enterprise’s space-faring crew depend on a seamless operation.
I suppose even in the 21st century we expect the same from our own devices. Fast, instantaneous computers that can tailor service to fit our every demand.
Today, society always has to play catch up (and not in the sense of meeting over some cuppa) — constantly scrolling, typing or clicking throughout the day.
This clip is from an episode called ‘Booby Trap’ and the Enterprise is trapped on a snare of star ship proportions. Geordi La Forge eventually figures out that shutting down most of the ship’s power and maneuvering with minimal thrusters would do the job instead of trying to escape at full power.
It is a lesson — teaching viewers the importance of occassionaly turning off the noise — because doing so may be the key to solving a problem.
Set a course for 3:46 to 4:04 on the video below, it’s another favourite of mine.
After blowing up some enemy ships, Geordi says to Dr. Leah Brahms
“You know I always thought technology could solve almost any problem. But sometimes, you just have to turn it all off. Even the gypsy violins.”
At which point La Forge and Brahms enjoy a tender smooch.
The message behind the dialogue left me smiling, nodding and thinking to myself, “man, Rodenberry got it right”.
The genius of Star Trek: TNG — and perhaps all of the series — was the nearly perfect blend of world building and heartfelt, poignant, social commentary; and even (or maybe especially) in 2016, Star Trek reminds us to grapple with moral quandaries as technology strives to help mankind live long and prosper.
Photo Courtesy of Neftali / Shutterstock.com
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