“Phasers to stun, prepare to beam down.” Gut sucked in, crouched ready for another universe saving bout of unlikely fisticuffs, William Shatner delivers another slice of the future direct to the wazzock lantern.
I loved Star Trek as a kid. Star Wars, too, and Tom Baker’s iconic Dr Who – the idea of climbing aboard a space craft or Tardis and blasting through space and time – fantastic.
The old Star Trek series now is an interesting window on what we thought the future might look like. When I was a kid I thought we’d have a moonbase, floating cities and robots. I thought that the year 2000 would bring technological miracles untold.
Science has let me down. I was promised a flying car, soaring freely above a technological paradise. Damn you, Tomorrow’s World.
Don’t get me wrong – there are ways in which the technology of today has outstripped the prognostications of Harlan Ellison and some of the other incredibly talented writers who penned Star Trek episodes. But if you’d asked me as a kid, which of the marvels available to Captain Kirk I thought would be best to have in the future… the transporter, the phaser… the last thing I’d have picked would have been the communicator. It was a flip phone. It didn’t even have Internet.
OK, wait, we’d not thought of the Internet (well, we had, of course, Ellison for one had cast the joined up machines as tormentor-god in a couple of stories, including the superbly chilling ‘I have no mouth and I must scream’) but even so, the communicator was just a phone with no wire, a walkie-talkie, basically.
I’m grateful for my smartphone, of course. It’s a marvel of the age and has aided me immensely in turning my life into an unmanageable barrage of ceaseless, disparate vocal and textual discourse, an electromagnetic schizophrenia navigated with the semiautonomous twitching of my right thumb. But I want a transporter – I’d rather beam into work and avoid the Bristol rush hour every day. Rather shower, change and step out of my home here and meet friends for a beer in California with no more effort than stepping into a public phone box. Brilliant as my Nokia is, getting badgered by charlatans offering PPI advice is a poor substitute for geolocational omnipotence. It’s like asking for a lift to the station and being offered a sandwich instead. Even if it’s a really good sandwich, it’s not getting me to my destination.
The somewhat less fatuous observation here is that the futuristic, online world of wonders that I inhabit is just as much a special effect as the Enterprise’s photon torpedoes or William Shatner’s toupee. The dark, satanic mills that blighted our green and pleasant land were supposed to have been done away with by gleaming, white, robot-buttling, matter reconfiguring technology. But my shoes are still made on the same crappy machines in the same filthy factories, it’s just that the consumptive urchins coughing up the fumes are in the Phillipines, making more room on the Dickensian streets of England for drug addicts and the people that our politicians make homeless. My clean nuclear fusion is too much of a financial risk compared to sponsoring a war to suck up a little tried-and-tested oil.
So it turns out that if I wanted a glimpse of my future choices, I should have been reading Orwell and Huxley, as if I’d eschewed Shatner’s flashy gadgets and pined for Newspeak, Soma, unending consumption and manufactured wars I’d have been tickled pink by now.
Soon, of course, Google will be driving my car instead of me. I expect every journey will be punctuated by regular thirty second stops alongside billboards for Google’s sponsors. So even if I do get my flying car, I doubt I’ll ever be free.