Sunday, March 28, 2004

Beam us up!

Has anyone written anything, maybe a book or at least an article or two, about how Star Trek has shaped the course of technological development over the last few decades? I'm thinking of things like this:

:: We all remember the communicators from the original series, which Kirk and company would flip open and hold to their faces, walkie-talkie style. Current cell-phone design seems directly inspired by this, no? Will future iterations of cellular technology bring little badges you wear on your chest, Next Generation style?

:: On Star Trek, everyone would read things via computer pads. Today, Angie McKaig points out the parallel to reading on today's PDAs and tablet PCs.

:: Finally, I'm wondering if people don't expect the Net in general to function the way the library computer does on the Enterprise, in which crewmembers can apparently request nearly any work ever created. Remember the Next Generation episode in which Ryker, Worf and Data get stuck in a simulacrum of a ritzy hotel, created by aliens for a human astronaut who had crashed on their planet? (The guy was reading a copy of some really bad novel set in a ritzy hotel at the time of his crash, and the aliens took that novel as a guide for what human life was really like.)

Anyway, according to the episode, that novel was written three centuries before the adventures of the Enterprise-D, and it deservedly slipped into complete obscurity, but Captain Picard is able to call up its text on the Enterprise computer almost instantly. And that's just one example; there were numerous other instances in The Next Generation when someone would take advantage of Data's staggering reading speed and give him an order like, "Data, search through the entire Federation database for any mentions of one-eyed purple people-eaters". And ten minutes later, he'd report back: "One hundred years ago, there was a single incident recorded on the planet MumboJumbo III...."

What I'm wondering is if we've come to expect the Net to be our version of Star Trek's library computer, and if some of the current copyright debate springs from the clash between what we want the Net to be versus what the Net really is, at least right now.

(Yes, this is just half-baked speculation. In fact, it's not even half-baked -- the oven's not even done preheating.)

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