Sunday, October 18, 2015

Let's (belatedly) Celebrate Federation Day!

Now Columbus has ruined two holidays.
Hey, do you know what today is? Alaska Day and Azerbaijani independence Day. But since neither you nor I live in either of these places (probably) we're going to say it's Federation Day. How come? Because I missed it this year. Yeah, with the run up to Canadian Thanksgiving and complaining about Columbus Day still being a thing, I totally let the holiest day on the Geek Orthodox calendar pass by unremarked upon and that cannot stand.

Fortunately, because travel at super-luminal speeds causes relativistic time dilation effects, and because our concept of time is limited by our primitive linear minds, I'm going to go ahead and declare today to be Federation Day. Oh, and fair warning: we're going to be talking nerdy from hear on out, so if that's not your cup of raktajino, maybe skip this one.
Oh please, like that made any less sense than any
of the technobabble Geordi LaForge came up with...
Back to the Future didn't lie to us, it just
grossly exaggerated hoverboard availability.
Since this year's Federation Day is something of a lie, and because the internet is awash with people complaining about our lack of hoverboards on this, the eve of Back to the Future II Day, I think it's important to examine the many ways Star Trek has lied to us about the future. Well, lie is a strong word, I mean, as science fiction, the writers were never really concerned about accurately predicting the future, just plausibly predicting the future. Sometimes they overshoot, sometimes they undershoot and sometimes they predict a terrifying dystopia run by Ricardo Montalbán.

Above: The unchallenged ruler of one
quarter of the Earth (source: history).
Yeah, remember how back in the 1990's our species was nearly overthrown by a race of genetically-enhanced super-clones? No, of course you don't, because this was probably Star Trek's stupidest prediction. Introduced in the 1967 episode Space Seed, Khan was an exiled tyrant from the Eugenics Wars of the 1990's who escaped prosecution by hopping into his cryogenic sleeper-ship and jetting off for parts unknown only to be discovered by the Enterprise crew. This in itself wasn't so bad, but then Khan came back in 1982's The Wrath of Khan which, ok, even then was looking a little ridiculous, but it was a good movie, so we let if go.

There were a couple of non-specific references to Khan and the Eugenics Wars in later Trek series, but writers were careful to avoid any specific dates. After all, the 1990's came and and went with nary a single genetically-engineered coup d'etat. But then Into Darkness came out in 20-goddamn-13 and ripped off the Wrath of Khan right down to Khan's ridiculously dated warlord of the 90's origin story.
"Captain, you don't know what it was like. The chaos, the
violence. Have you ever heard of Ace of Base? If you had,
you would understand that I did what needed to be done..."
-Benedict Cumberkhan
You can even flap them open and shut
and make them talk like a high-tech puppet. 
Ok, so Khan was probably a misstep, but they made a lot of accurate predictions too right? Cell phones are like communicators, 3-D printers are essentially early replicators. But then you have tricorders. I mean, what the hell? They're the swiss army knife of the future and can do goddamn anything.  Anything! Run analyses? Check. Scan for life forms? All over it. Projecting holographic messages of peace and cooperation hidden by ancient humanoids in our junk DNA? No problem, because they're basically magic.

Spock even once used his to record all of human history including searchable newspaper articles from alternate timelines. I realize we have iPhones now with all kinds of apps, but tricorders transcend plausible functionality and fall squarely into the category of 'because the script needs this to happen.'
"Fascinating, I'm detecting high levels of narrative expedience and lazy writing..."
"Command not recognized, please
clarify: 'bite me you stupid, addle-
minded, isolinear-dipshit."
It's weird then for as impossibly useful and sophisticated as the tricorders were that the computers were so useless. The Enterprise's super-sophisticated think-box, which is presumably capable of the complex calculations that keeps the ship from warping through a star or bouncing too close to a supernova, has to shout WORKING in a loud, grating Dalek voice before executing what amounts to even the simplest Google search. And the computer on The Next Generation wasn't much better. It was constantly confusing the crew's offhand remarks and under their breath utterances for commands.

In fact, the most prescient computer technology suggested by Star Trek was probably the gear crammed into the humanoid skull. Yup, spoiler alert: we're turning in to the Borg. Constantly sharing our thoughts with each other on our smartphones is just the first step, next up is wearable tech followed by implantable tech. Seriously, what are we, fifteen, twenty years away from waiting in line at the Apple store for the next iBorg neuro-link?
Sure we're probably condemning ourselves to a meaningless existence
as a planet full of tech-addicted automatons inextricably linked to the
hive mind, but at this point will we notice much of a difference?

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