Back to: I had a blog entry for you, but I eated it | Forward to: Beer, Boston (and books)


I am incredibly sick at the moment, will all the exciting respiratory pyrotechnics that implies, so today I'm going to Think Real Hard about Star Trek, that old SF past-time. It's like playing on your childhood swingset. It's a little small for you now, but it still makes you smile.

Like many, I've been slowly rewatching Deep Space Nine ever since it popped up on Netflix. It's been fascinating. On the one hand: Oh 90s! YOU WERE THE BEST! With your adorable WE ARE SO DARK plots that seem like Strawberry Shortcake Goes to Space by today's standards. On the other, in many ways 2012 has already overtaken DS9 as The Future goes, barring, of course, space travel and replicators. Culturally, though, we've zoomed right past the 24th century by the second decade of the 21st.

I've been struck particularly by two things missing from the DS9 universe--one unpredictable in the 1993-99 span of the series, and one predictable but unattractive from the creators' standpoint.

Nobody uses social media, and nobody wastes time.

As I watch everyone interact on the station, the lack of social media sticks out hugely to me simply because it is how so many of us interact with each other now--and especially over long distances. There is no hashtag for DS9 workers to tweet LOLSisko macros or talk to families back home. Everyone uses voice/video communication rather than text despite the security issues this obviously poses (and of course a social network of any kind poses security problems in and of itself, but provides rich narrative opportunities in that arena which I've yet to see explored much) and the fact that we are seeing even now many people shy away even from the telephone when given an alternative. We have the videophones of science fiction past--and no one much cares. We use it sometimes, but it's far more of a pain to make yourself presentable onscreen, get the kids and dogs to leave you alone for long enough to Skype, and carry on an etiquette minefield of a conversation when a quick text or email will do for most business.

This doesn't begin to cover the constant "come here and see this" requests, where said person will not be able to come there and see that due to falling plot. We live in a world already where no one need come and see anything, a quick picture upload obviates the need for O'Brien to come squint at your shit in person. Part of the reason, I think, that Minority Report continues to be a watchwod for interface technology is that it showed a new(ish) way for people to interact with technology. In DS9, instantaneous information tech is available and evenly distributed, but the writers do not live in a world, yet, where anyone has begun to figure out what to do with it. So walkie talkies are still, in 1999, the model for communication. DS9 cares about physical presence in a way we are already beginning to leave behind.

All of the episodes involving Jake's incipient writer-hood (besides being pretty weaksauce in general) make much more sense if one imagines him as a blogger rather than an intrepid boy reporter for...a newspaper? Magazine? I find it sort of touching that the kind of 30s reporter that Jake seems to aspire to be is still considered worthy and important--he wants to write our brand of McCarthy/Hemingway realist fiction (when we hear his plots they do not involve spaceships or aliens even though those would be realism for him) and even more amusingly, he's terribly famous in the future he glimpses on account of having published a single short story collection. In fact, the war correspondence he so longs to write--and he believes he is the only one who can write it--would be one of many, many voices escaping from occupied DS9 in the post Arab Spring networked news hivemind.

I do think the presence of a TrekTwitter would be deeply erosive to the power structure on DS9, though I'm not wholly sure that's a bad thing. Everyone in power is good and believes themselves a hero--even when they are deceitful and manipulative it is always in service of the greater good, where the greater good is defined as the survival of the Federation. Can you imagine the subreddit for the station? How many atheists would tear down Sisko the messiah, how every decision would be questioned, mocked, dissected where the actors and the acted upon could see it? Every show of this type has a "view from below" episode at some point--but part of the point of the barrage of opinions and information we now sort through every day is that the view from below is as available as the A narrative, at all times.

But it's not there. At one point someone asks for a high-speed data connection and this is treated as a pretty serious request. But all I could think is: for what?

This absolutely feeds into my second point, which I think is far more endemic to SF in general than simply the lack of anyone predicting Facebook in 1993.

We do see hobbies on the station: O'Brien and Bashir, who are basically married by Season 2, like to re-enact famous battles in the holosuite. Sisko likes to re-enact baseball games. People gamble, they play sports, they play instruments, they buy prostitutes both virtual and real. But the hobby we see most often is reading books (followed by cooking food, which is interesting and I think a right call in a world of replicators--real, cooked food suddenly has a tremendous value and becomes a status-flag) we never see anyone just wasting time.

Battle re-enactments are eminently useful for military officers; likewise strategic sports and even Picard's mystery-solving programs and the crew's bafflingly low-tech poker games, though that's getting further afield than I'd like. Gambling is almost always shown as a social activity (as opposed to online poker) in which many other kinds of important information can be had. Reading books is mentally stimulating and often the books themselves are classics even by our own standards, such as Shakespeare. (Most people, no matter what their profiles say, do not read Shakespeare to unwind. Apparently all Starfleet captains do, however. As a totally irrelevant aside, this jives a bit with my experience with Naval captains, who often know a good deal of Victorian poetry and classical prose, but they learned it in college and despite being able to recite Coleridge as a party trick, I never knew any during my more intimate years with the US Navy that cracked open The Rime for a good time.) In fact, the pastimes we see are very Victorian in nature. They are parlor pastimes: reading, talking, playing live instruments (something we already see drastically less of than even a few decades ago, especially as compared to how many people can play Rock Band vs can play a guitar). It's all over Aubrey and Maturin up in there.

Nobody sits around and plays Farmville. Nobody gets embroiled in a flame war concerning the portrayal of Klingons in human vids or just sits and watches vids with their feet up. Nope. The brave men and women of the future read (super old) books, talk to each other face to face, and even in their VR fantasies practice for things they will have to do in real life or, admittedly quite realistically, have space holosex. There is no WoW. There are no video games at all unless they are evil ones from Risa that will suck out your brains.

Because of this, and because of the lack of a social network, it is possible to be alone in the Star Trek world in a way which I would have to deliberately take action to achieve in my world. Even when we are alone, most of us check a number of communication vectors and leave them live--Twitter, email, text messages, Facebook, our blogs, Reddit, news feeds. We are a baby hivemind spinning our training wheels. To be alone as profoundly (to me) as Sisko, Kira, and the rest often are, I would have to make a decision to shut down all of those streams. (And I do that sometimes. But it's a choice. The Internet is always on. Actually, in my house we have 19th century nights where all the power and screens are shut off and only pre-electricity activities are on the table. You know, reading books, playing live instruments, talking, cooking, playing cards. It's a bit hilarious that those nights are the closest thing I can get to living on DS9.)

Sidebar: Interestingly, the whole notion of the Great Link seems to present a very high-level version of that interconnected, networked state, much like Asimov's Galaxia. This is a concept that used to horrify me, being a good 14 year old "rugged" "individualist" American. But now I live in the baby-version of that world, where I can plug into the world's thoughts at will. It's addictive; very hard to unplug once you're there. And the Great Link is a wholly, constantly networked culture--even their bodies are open source. They do not need to eat or work or sleep or have sex or die. When they're not getting up in the Alpha Quadrant's grill, they simply are.

And in terms of DS9's universe, the Great Link is at best squicky and at worst an abomination. That connectivity, that lack of need, is presented as a big part of their Otherness, the reason that not only are they bad because they engineer species and want to fight the Federation, but that their being is essentially suspect. Not like our upstanding heroes, who never waste a moment, never let a consideration of others get too much in the way of Doing the Right Thing.

Anyway. I know wasting time is not necessarily narratively interesting, (though it can be. How one wastes time says a lot about a person) but Star Trek is at least in lip-service a post-scarcity world, and the Federation is not at war until Season 6. Wasting time and/or fucking around would be a lot of what people did with their lives. It's a lot of what we do now, and we're not even close to post-much at all. No one is frivolous in the future. No one exhibits poor or even mediocre time management. All are paladins of self-organization.

Wasting time has a unique pleasure (some call it slack) that we as humans are kind of addicted to. We're starting to do it collectively on our social networks now, to waste time in a connected way. The universe of DS9 is culturally incredibly old-fashioned--all the aspects of life that were important to a 19th century officer can be found in spades, both in-show and in a meta-sense. In a world with faith in its higher-ups, as Star Trek purported to be, it is terrifying to see the paladins playing WoW. They should be defending justice even in their sleep--and this too is a very old idea.

Much continues to be made of the fact that we now have Star Trek pads, ubiquitous, available, and to be honest, better than those on the show, which showed piles of them required to convey basic ship business. But more than the pads, in fifteen years or so, we've leapfrogged the social norms of Star Trek on the back of the Internet. It's amazing to me just how quick the transition was--of course we're still in it--and that more recent Star Treks have not and probably will not engage with this new reality either. Star Trek is a butterfly in a glass. It is no longer meant to predict or exhibit the future, but to quietly stand for the world of the past, as much as the Shire ever was. It's not exactly revolutionary to say that about Star Trek, but DS9 still gets props for its realistic portrayal of war (I actually think the war bits are sort of trite and easy--the Dominion is never for a moment meant to be seen as having a point or being in the right) and grittiness, since of course grittiness = quality in terms of much contemporary media.

But it strikes me that, though she wears a pretty technodress, underneath DS9 is Grandma telling us kids how it was in her day, and that no matter how many fancy doodads we get, her day will go on forever.



Here's another anecdote, no one in the future is interested in their future. Seems strange. And in the rare event they try something new it always fails and they go back to ye olden days way of doing things.


This is Star Trek

Clearly they don't use social media, because it would inevitably turn evil, and try to kill everyone, if they did.

Remember that episode where Riker brought a videogame back to the ship? The only thing that saved them that time was Will Wheaton.

That's the kind of thing of learning experience that people remember.

Yes they put up with the holodeck... People putting up with a greater potential dismemberment risk for Holoporn than they will for Twitter seems plausible to me.


This is a bit like the problem of post-Singularity fiction that our gentle host grapples with rather elegantly - the uplifted are not going to be comprehensible to us, so we need a narrative based around the more comprehensible humans (I just re-read Accelerando, Singularity Sky, and Iron Sunrise this month, so am freshly impressed).
It may be that the future narratives we can understand now are those rooted in historic tech.
Connie Willis does something similar in her time travel stories, where cellphones are a shunned technology that almost caused a catastrophe in the past (which si never explained)


I always thought the writers of star trek were trying to make any federation officer the perfect aficionado of John Stuart Mill's higher pleasures. Even when they have bars no one gets drunk but instead sips cocktails. Everyone is obsessed with classics of history (even aliens who read shakespear and perform opera)

Whilst reading a book might make a character relatable it's fairly obvious (I should think to people even pre-internet and pre-video games) that if you had a holodeck you would use it to make a world where you could perform magic, where everything bent to your will so that you could fly, conjure up fine wine etc.

If anything there is a hint of anti-technology amongst star treks technobabble. Despite the huge potential their technology gives them the people of that world all spend their spare time doing good-old-fashioned, wholesome pass times.


What always bugged me about Star Trek is that all the really big bad are at their core very honest and realistic depictions of human beings, if humans had gone through the same biological, technological, or cultural development?

Whereas the actual humans in Star Trek are nothing like real humans, but more like mythical idealised heavenly creatures? With the hobbies we dream that our idealised selfs would have... And nearly always when StarTrek humans are "evil" they are evil with very good intentions?


All the Trek shows came from a Hollywood Liberal perspective of the universe, which is essentially early 20th Century (so it's primary values are 19th Century; the big stuff always takes longer to change). So the notion of therapy that Counselor Troi practices in The Next Generation sounds like an amalgamation of Dr. Phil and Eliza: a cup of mildly probing questions, a pinch of psychobabble, a couple of tablespoons of earnestness, a lot of repeating back, and an occasional "I think we made a breakthrough today." No drugs, no brain scans (unless we knew beforehand there was organic damage, in which case the ship's doctor is doing the diagnosis), and no behavioral or cognitive therapy, let alone anything invented after the 20th Century.

The same is true in DS9, but more so, because whole classes of technologies, social systems, and individual preferences are automatically suspect, if not outright evil. Anything associated with the Dominion is, of course, dangerous. But that's not all that our heroes need to be wary of: DS9 is a nexus of a number of civilizations, and any of them might harbor a meme or behavior that could harm the Federation. Except for the funny ones, like those silly JewsFerengi, or whatever race Morn, the quiet smuggler, comes from.

In fact, for a science fiction show, DS9 was remarkably wedded to the mores and tropes of the past. I don't think that it's unique in that respect; all of the parts of the Trek franchise that Gene Roddenberry oversaw were stuck firmly in a worldview that was almost 2 generations old when he inherited it. It got slicked up with phasers and warp drives, but while Trek tried to be liberal towards human ethnic and racial groups other than default white male Christians, it wasn't really good at that, and it almost never acknowledged homosexuality, atheism, or other religions. And when it did acknowledge them, the stories were usually embarrassing at best, and condescending more often than not.

I think that's of a piece with DS9's inability to deal with the possibility of future disruptive technologies. They started out looking backward for their moral compass, and were afraid to look ahead for fear the compass wouldn't give them a true bearing anymore.


Everything in TV dramas has to come out in the dialogue. That's why.

Well, not exactly everything, since we're not talking about radion drama here, but pretty much everything.

TV drama also has severe cost limitations so whatever it is that you show has to be simple, like a baseball for the captain.

You also have severe time constraints so you don't have the luxury to experiment Stanley Kubrick had to find out where he could fill the entire screen with text, as in a silent movie.

In fact you can't show text at all because it doesn't have the same impact as the spoken word on a low res TV screen.


How many times have you seen siginificant text, apart from the HUGE GO AWAY on Dr Bashir's PADD screen, just once

Social media is text for now.

One day in the future when CGI costs will come down for TV dramas, and when social media will be more than text it will be possible to actually present them on TV. In the meantime we,re staying with spoken interfaces.


The idea of the interconnected human society as a fledgling hivemind sort of crossed the subject of post scarcity in my head and I started thinking of humans as component neurons in the brain, and no neuron goes starved for blood and resources, so that's one model for a post scarcity society right there.

Of course then I remembered neural pruning and it didn't seem quite so cozy anymore.



I think Sherlock has done a great job of visually integrating text and social media into the text of a show. It's not impossible by a long shot.


There's an old fan theory about various Trek series that says that what we're watching is nothing more than Federation-produced propaganda, showing the citizenry how wonderful Starfleet is, how it protects people from the menace of other races etc This is to cover up that it's really a pretty nasty military dictatorship (with the extrapolation that Blake's 7 is revolutionary samizdat - hence the lower production values - from the same universe)

Therefore it's quite logical that the characters don't do anything frivolous as they're all perfect examples of New Soviet Starfleet Man who have risen above such temptations, though I imagine much of that technology is being used to pacify the 24th century masses.


That's trying a little hard, if you ask me. Of course it's inevitable that any science fiction purporting to be about a real place- namely, the future- will eventually shake out to be an awkward blend of overshoot and anachronism, and that visual SF will inevitably suffer more from finite production budgets and an inability to leave out the details. That being said, I don't think people's fondness for video conversation over Twitter (which is functionally telegraphy) or for playing sports with friends on the holodeck over playing Farmville is a sign of anything more than their famously evolved sensibilities- and the fact that trying to predict future frivolities runs even higher risks than predicting future technologies and you can safely bet on the pastimes that have already survived the ages.

The data is pretty suggestive that Grandma was right about some things- some things are appealing in excess to the pleasure we get from them, and blowing all day on the Internet instead of seeing and touching friends, and getting some exercise, and thinking some heavy thoughts, seems to be on the list. Every time a teenager goes from hourly Facebook updates to posting some nice pictures every few months as an adult, we're seeing this discovery in action, and if the central thematic conceit of Trek is that we figure some of this junk out in a broad context, it stands to reason that the best-of-the-best in Starfleet might be pretty adept at finding good ways to spend their time.


Just to mention, I think the Great Link is portrayed a lot more ambiguously than it's discussed here. Based on the broad range of the discussion it seems like spoilers are fair game here, and I think it's worth remembering that in the end, the writers make Odo choose between his Big Show-Focus Romance and returning to his Hivemind Soup World, and refreshingly, he's like, "Hey, Kira, it's been great, but I'm totally going to pick the 'immortal bodiless god' option. Later."

I also do think Star Trek manages to explain some (though certainly not all) of this by the fact that its stories all concern a very narrow-focused view of the Post-Scarcity future - the vanishingly tiny fraction of society who decide to forsake their life of ease and abundance and go live in the utopia-future equivalent of a shitty submarine, where they will encounter danger and death on a regular basis. We almost never see what non-Starfleet life is like, but what we do get is pretty much an entire civilization built around wasting time and fucking around, because why not? All material needs are met for free, so pick a hobby, grow a vineyard, cook cajun food and give it away for free, or just go to Risa and terraform an entire ecosystem just to create the ultimate environment for orgies.


While I live in hope that during my remaining adult lifetime social networking will die back and become useful (although I don't have much hope sadly), surely you've missed the "Science Fiction is a comment on the present" line that I'm sure you used in one of your earlier posts.

ST:TOS didn't have counsellors and the like - it was much more a commentary on the cold war and tensions about equal rites. How 1960's and 70's do you want? By the 80's we're into everyone having therapy, Troi appears. By the 90's... retro fashion but the internet was the preserve of geeks and academics.

BSG had an excuse not to go there - Cylons invading networked communications - but as someone's already commented, Sherlock is doing smartphones, blogging, SMS messages and the like. There will be something in SciFi TV where there's commentary on one or more of those things, and 15 years later someone else will be saying "Why didn't they have..."


It wouldn't be Trek without the bourgeois luddism. Even in TOS watching a performance of Shakespeare was the pinnacle of entertainment and the arrogance of thinking that relying on computers could improve quality of life proved to be the downfall of many a guest character.


What, no mention of the Borg? They have constant awareness of each other and consider it jarring when someone "drops off the grid"... they suffer real problems with an environment that fosters "epistemic closure"... better analog for social networking than the Great Link, IMHO.


> Nobody sits around and plays Farmville

That's because Star Trek is an optimistic version of the future.


When discussing star trek, it would appear that starfleet crews only deal with interesting problems. J G Ballard and others would describe the star trek universe as a boring utopia for most. There's a mention of this when Bashir's dad who designs urban parkland.

Star Trek has its problems in that 45 (sometimes 40) minutes it hardly allows them to hashtag things.


I read your blog entry as comment about the past and the now of social communication, not as comment about Star Trek. Is that right?


Aren't traditional storytelling and social media antagonists? "Please, sit for an hour and give me your undivided attention, while I tell you the story of a boy who waited for a girl for 25 years without a word." It becomes a lot more difficult for the storyteller if the audience is paying partial attention to 10^n additional feeds. A story of separation is less interesting when our star-crossed lovers are texting back and forth, "missed ANOTHER bus, bbiab." When the characters constantly know more about their world and each other than the audience ever could you're playing by different rules. I feel like there needs to be some form of information gap, be it a character hiding his or her true feelings from his SpaceBook account or some fundamental limit on information transfer. The short anime Voices of a Distant Star did this pretty well, stretching an email conversation out over a line light-years long. Finding the gaps, the sources of tension, is at once harder (your characters are accustomed to knowing just about everything) and easier (huge information machine with LOTS of "moving parts" means there are innumerable points of failure)


I think you may have missed the mark re: atheism. Star Trek is *the* atheist show. It's a show whose major thematic breakthrough was electing to *include* religious characters. When the franchise founder comes out and says "I condemn the effort to take away the power of rational decision, to drain people of their free will -- and a hell of a lot of money in the bargain. Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all. For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a functioning brain," and then proceeds to have half a dozen episodes about unmasking false gods in one series and then has the center character of the next flatly state that faith leads to barbarism, I think it's rather clear that secularism is welcome onboard.


You got me there. I stopped watching TV completely in May 2005.

(Which is when ST: Enterprise ended)


Charlie has a (very) old blog post on this subject, with (if I recall) the title "STAR TREK IS NOT SCIENCE FICTION". The thesis, if I recall, is that Star Trek would lose none of its core plotlines were it transplanted into the nineteenth century. I'm not sure I agree with that fully (while it's almost certainly true of most of TNG, it's less true of TOS, and there are even a few notable exceptions within TNG), but the characters in Star Trek are definitely not clearly culturally affected by their mode of life. However, we so rarely see glimpses of 'normal' life on Earth (and slightly more often, other Federation planets) that it can suitably be claimed that the weirdos who forsake the joys of a post-scarcity utopia for cramped quarters and military discipline and (in some cases) even rations are not actually representative of the society they have rejected, and that they model themselves off of the classical figures they idolize more so than is necessarily apparent.


You know the real reason Star Trek has backwards tech? They're running Enterprise software…


The Borg are of course portrayed not only as evil but stupid. If such a thing existed they would be very good looking, have sexy voices and their ad campaigns would emphasize the aspects of unique friendship and immortality that being a part of a hive mind provides. Most people would be queuing up to join - "Give us your tired and huddled masses yearning to be happy".


At one point someone asks for a high-speed data connection and this is treated as a pretty serious request.

Which is weird because they regularly bounce terabytes of data through a non-newtonian dimension like it's no thing.

As to there being no WoW in the 24th century: that's what the holodeck/holosuite is. Some people choose to play in classical narratives but the concept of new and contemporary holonovels are referred to all the time. The crew use the holodeck for role-playing fantasy scenarios all the time, they just are customizable and adaptive to a degree we don't have in WoW. But surely somebody, somewhere in the Federation spends inordinate amounts of time in the holodeck, slaying orcs and questing in a magical pseudo-medieval world.


Yes - I have wondered about a Federation with no ground troops but a massive presence in space. It rather implies lots of orbital bombardment and not much in the way of "peacekeeping" on the ground. Plus, families on front line warships like the Enterprise? A peaceful Federation that has held off both the Klingon and Romulan Empires for centuries, not to mention the Cardassians and Dominion? Something's not right here...


Computer - replicate me a couple of grams of coke and fire up the Counselor Troi program on the pornodeck...


Star Trek and the Federation actually depict a Space Amish splinter group from the Culture. They kept a fair bit of the technology but rejected the Minds (it was mutual, really) and pledged to use even their retained miracles, like teleporters, in only the most mundane and unchanging ways. They also falsified a bunch of implausible history where humans instead of Minds forged history. A lone human genius "Zefram Cochrane" invents FTL travel only a century after it took giant government organizations to put the first humans in low Earth orbit; yeah, right.

The reason the Enterprise never encounters a hostile entity that (say) has microsecond reflexes and destroys the ship before the captain even says "arm phasers"... is that the Culture helpfully built the Galactic Barrier and only lets other relatively harmless play-actors in. The Prime Directive? An artificial taboo, a lightning rod of transgression designed by the Culture, venerated precisely because violating it is so routine and inconsequential. The "pre-warp societies" encountered by the Federation are just puppet shows animated by a tiny fraction of a single Mind. In Star Trek humans never really inflict an Out of Context Problem on another species, and likewise they never need fear encountering one.


I'm convinced that the vast majority of the population of the Federation are doing all those time-wasting things.

The Starfleet officers THINK they're busy defending everyone else's ability to enjoy themselves, but Starfleet was actually invented to get the busybodies out of the slackers' way. Being in Starfleet is just participating in an ongoing massively multiplayer LARP of Aubrey/Maturin ... In Space!


Being a Transhumanist, I am the epitome of evil in the Star Trek universe.
On a similar theme, I was reading The While People by Arthur Machen:
In it this is a discussion of the nature of true evil. It seems that me and my friends are also evil by his definition as well.


Written sf doesn't have the same restraints, and isn't always stuck that far in the past. However: SF written in this century often has human societies much like that of 1950s America (or the Disney version of that), with some late-20th-century touches. There are people of the future listening to 1970s rock music.

And, of course, much written sf is intended to be about Today's Important Problems. Which I consider to be a doomed enterprise; we won't know what today's important problems were till some time in the future. Then we'll wonder why sf writers didn't notice the Beast with an unlisted number.


Well, several people beat me to the "science fiction is about the present" comment, so what I have to add is mostly negative.

AFAIK, Star Trek was profoundly anti-technical and anti-science, and all the things Cat showed were demonstrations of that problem.

One of the my memorable lines in DS was Sisko carrying an "alien artifact" (some sort of space bug egg) by hand to an airlock, while O'Brien was shouting something about how "graviton emissions" from the thing were increasing exponentially. Doesn't that mean it was turning into a black hole? I certainly wouldn't want to bare-hand something that was pulling at me with exponentially increasing force. It stuck with me because they could have said almost anything (neutrino, pion, tachyon, theta waves etc) and it would have worked equally well. Instead, the script writers came across as profoundly uninterested in getting things right, and used a word that turned a moment of drama into a memorable moment of stupidity. There are moments like that throughout science fiction, but Star Trek seems to have more than its share.


Arguably Star Trek has a series of temporal "binding sites" which wax and wane as culture and technology advances. For quite a while in the early '80s automatic sliding doors were commonly referred to "star trek" doors with astonishment. Now that they are as common as salt, they have become mundane. Sick bay, flip phones, gigantic flatscreens, and a multiracial crew are pretty mundane. Ubiquitous computing, Geordi's Visor, replicators, and the holodeck are presently strongly relavant due to similar tech making its way through the technology adoption curve.

As for the lack of slacking, low pursuits and farmville, I'd classify it as a case of "Hollywood Calvinism". We never see folks playing solitare or minesweeper on CSI or The West Wing either. Too mundane, and too time consuming for a drama.

(The same cannot be said for Babylon 5 in which bathrooms, a data crystal full of pron and assistants playing with handheld games were depicted.)

Finally, the environment of most of the series (less so with DS9) was somewhat odd. While the speed of subspace communications varied considerably by episode, the bandwidsth and reliability were less than ideal. As a result you had a crew of ~500 in close quarters with little incoming or outgoing bandwidth. About the only modern day 1st world equivalent is the various winter antartic stations. After a year or two of a 5 year mission, most crewmembers would have exhausted much of the novelty of social networking. On the other hand one would expect insane LAN parties...


The timewasting wired majority are back home watching Star Trek. Amongst other reality senso-shows. And a lot of other things. Everything that happens on every Federation ship and station is recorded in the minutest detail from multiple points of view, transferred back to every inhabited system, uploaded to the interplanetary Net, experienced, discussed, commented on endlessly, and repackaged again and again into shows like "I'm a Klingon, get me out of here", "The Federation's next top Starfleet Captain", and "Who wears red?". The result of each episode is voted on by trillions of post-scarcity proles floating in orbital nutrient tanks.


Perhaps they have better entertainment theory then? Then they could intelligently choose only those leisure activities that also quicken and strengthen both body and mind...


Just reverse the polarity of the phase inverters on the warp core nacelle's inertial damper using a simple tachyon screwdriver.


And while I'm thinking about ST stuff, how come they never use H bombs on recalcitrant problems? Most modern SF seems to have forgotten about such tech. The Empire in Star Wars could have done with a few of those. Much simpler than Death Stars.


Cute, but too many problems for it to be the case.
For one, for all we know "humans" may have invented FTL. The only thing we can say for sure is that humans didn't create any Mindlike intelligence.
Second, the Culture isn't the only major power in thr galaxy. Even the Idirans, who eschewed AI but still used it, were roughly Culture level.
Now if you were to say the Star Trek universe was a simulation in the Cultureverse, that is certainly possible, but a banal possibility.
Regardin Cat's main premise, ST is a pretty clear example of golden age scifi. The characters aren't fundamentally different than us. Even more, their activities are basically just lioe ours. They have chess, a gym, theater,a bar, and a rec room (holo deck). Even the holodeck only acts as a proxy for a larger space. They never use it to do things that aren' t possible in their universe. They just use it to simulate park-like spaces, or cosplay groups.
The thing that seems clearest to me which hasn't been addressed during these conversations about the future is "body modification"


I think that they don't bother with hydrogen bombs any more because antimatter is so readily available.

On the other hand, IIRC I once calculated (based on cobbling together "technical information" from various sources) that a ST shuttle moving at its top impulse drive speed would be more destructive as a kinetic energy weapon than any weapons the Federation officially possesses. A full-size starship moving at high impulse speed would be a relativistic planet-killer.


the crew's bafflingly low-tech poker games, though that's getting further afield than I'd like. Gambling is almost always shown as a social activity (as opposed to online poker)

Poker in a movie or TV show is almost always a way to fast forward the plot. Having a group of non intimate people (intimate people should never play poker together) allows the audience to "catch up" with various events without the need for scenes to be acted out.


As to not seeing people waste time. DS9's closest analogies in today's world are things like air craft carriers or nuclear subs. If you ever meet the people who run such things (not the crew) they tend to be driven and focused. Otherwise they never make it up the ladder to command. I can't imagine officers on a carrier playing much farmville.


Most TV and movie SF totally ignores E=MV^2. Usually at multiple levels and more than once every 5 minutes. Ditto inertia which is basically the same thing.


Here's a question: has anyone done the mashup of special forces vs. Jedi? Or better yet, someone meeting a jedi with "Say hello to my leetle frieend." Heck, give me a marine recon battalion and we won't have to worry about stormtroopers any more. They wouldn't even see what hit them.


It's like politicians or judges occasionally ridiculed in the media for not knowing who's who in the latest TV reality game. I am just waiting for one of them to say something along the lines of: "Of course I don't know about that trivial shit - it's there to distract morons like you while I get on running the country and planning your petty lives for you".


Then there's handguns which are directed energy weapons.
When you hit someone with (say) a 10MW beam they do not cleanly vaporize. Parts of them explode and burn, and the backflash would probably blind the shooter if they were close. The scene shorty after the shot is one of bits of charred meat and a lot of smoke.


Much as I like Star Trek in all its iterations, they really are boy scouts in space, in the main. This, despite having the greatest masturbatory tool (which they do SORT of talk about in Voyager) in existence; the Holodeck. Though of course the thing is always malfunctioning and causing the almost ruin of the ship...that and shuttle crashes are the most consistent plot element. I don't know who makes their shuttles - but they really should sack them! Voyager left them scattered around the Delta Quadrant...

As far as adoption of technology is concerned, I thought it might be a bit like the representation of technology in Battlestar Galactica - technology has been simplified and is not as advanced for a reason. Networked computers and wireless devices were banned, as they could be used by the Cylons to disable Colonial ships. In DS9, for example, (and I'm showing my nerdy heritage here); the Eugenics Wars mean that genetic manipulation is illegal and highly frowned upon. Bashir's parents used illegal genetic manipulation for him to reach the 'perfection' he has. Could such an event in the timeline (such as the Cylon Wars in BSG) mitigate against the use of information technology as we know it?

Custom, history, experience and even economics can mitigate against the take-up, or rejection of technologies. Conspiracy theories abound about the merits of fuel cell technologies, orbital engines etc. Technologies that might have made an impact, if not for the perfidious Big Oil, Detriot etc etc. You would also imagine that social media has NOT made a significant impact in North Korea for example - and a warrior society like the Klingons would not be into playing Farmville! The psychology of a society can really determine what direction science takes (see feminist critiques of scientfic theory!).

Each of the alien races in Star Trek were written as representations of of human societies; warriors (Klingons/Japanese), totalitarian (Romulans/Russians), fascist (Cardassians), industrial/kleptomaniac states (Ferengi); states based on reason (Vulcans). Each would have different technologies that they would initiate and use. There was an alien race in Voyager - the hunters, cant remember what they're called. But they were slowly killing each other in their psychological need to hunt - the use of the holodeck technology enabled them to reorganise and sublimate their hunting urges enough to organise and save their society.


The only senior army guy I know is very proud to have appeared repeatedly in the Times Literary Supplement. Apparently, it travels well across the hellholes we send our armies to, and brings great joy in its path.

Is "reads Shakespeare" the equivalent - "uses low-tech old-school media because it survives harsh, low-bandwidth environments"?

I don't know who makes their shuttles

Probably the lowest bidder.


No, that's "reads Tom Clancy novels in paperback."


But you forget. Money was abolished. Things were built for the joy of doing it. Or some such nonsense. I wonder how few plumbers they needed to clean out sewage lines given what I assume would be the low number of people who would "just want to do it".


I am incredibly sick at the moment, will all the exciting respiratory pyrotechnics that implies,

Sorry to hear that. I just had the worst cold in 10 to 15 years. Put me in bed for 3 days and took another week before I was anywhere near 100%.


The theory going around about the USS Voyager was that it had a shuttle mine on one of the lower decks. Any time they needed a shuttle some unlucky crewman went down there with a pick and shovel and excavated one.

Moonbase Alpha had an automated shuttle factory which went berserk when the nuclear waste repository blew up and threw the Moon out of Earth's orbit. It couldn't be shut down so they had to wreck at least one shuttle every few programs to prevent themselves from being swamped by the damn things.


No social media and no WoW? That's why they've made it into space.

In our world, the USA of the 1960s and 1970s before the rise of social media and WoW put men on the moon. Now it can't.

OK, OK, that's a dubious correlation. But I see no reason to assume that the future will value the same entertainments and social connectivity that we do.

Westerners before the 19th century shared rooms and beds to a degree we wouldn't put up with today. Example: would you accept an offer from a hotel "we can't put you up in a room of your own but you can share a bed with a stranger"? We may communicate more, but we share our social space less. By DS9 times, it's changed again.

Entertainment / wasting time isn't a given either. Medieval people had a lot more fun than Puritans / Calvinists. Same (I think) for regency-era English than Victorian.

There's a lot of cycles in fashion and social mores, why shouldn't Victorian-style restraint make a comeback?


Cat, one of the other interesting things in DS9 is the racial and sexual politics. Captain Sisko - being a sexy black man can only have a relationship with the ONLY African American woman within 20 light years. O'Brien's relationship with the irritating Japanese woman is neither here nor there, but the fear of miscegenation thing is for an American audience. Which is odd given how trail-blazing the original series was with Ensign Uhura.

If Star Trek is more about the United States and for a domestic audience - what does Doctor Who ( I won't mention Torchwood) and Blakes 7 say about the UK?


I think that one of the issues with TOS was that it was derived from A. E. van Voigt's Space Beagle stories. These were written in the 40's-50's.

If you read the collection, "Voyage of the Space Beagle", you'll see what I'm talking about. One of the early shows in the first season of TOS was a direct lift from one of those VoSB stories. :-)


Star Trek and the Federation actually depict a Space Amish splinter group from the Culture.

A winnar is you, Matt ! Next thread, please… :)


Incidentally, some of these issues around "Why don't they use this technology intelligently?" were actually addressed in Deep Space 9 in later seasons, haphazardly, with the answer often being "Because it's harder to portray on television."

The best example was the question of why the hell a civilization with completely realistic holograms is still using bigscreen televisions for ANYTHING. There are like two episodes where they show the Defiant as having a device where whoever Sisko is talking to just appears and has a conversation with him in hologram form - but they dropped it almost immediately, and Ron Moore has actually said it was because it was too difficult to signpost for viewers who was really there and who was being projected.

To me, though, that's part of what makes DS9 a bit closer to legit science fiction than most of the other Trek. They actually grappled with trying to portray how a society with this kind of technology would actually work. Holo-brothels, discussions of how a post-economic, post-scarcity utopia interacts when it runs into civilizations that still use money, even questions about how you deal with AI that actually isn't sentient but is so convincingly faked that people can't tell the difference(*).

It didn't always succeed - in fact it often failed spectacularly - but it actually did try, which sets it apart from most Trek.

(*) Vic Fontaine becomes much more interesting once you realize the intention, stated outright by the writers and rather subtlely discussed in-show, was that he was genuinely not a sentient being. He really was just a very sophisticated P-zombie.


Pretty clearly ST is more of a kind with the Golden Age of scifi than anything else. What was basically done was stick 20th century average Western Civ Man into the 24th. They have almost exactly the same past times as we do. Nothing truly distruptive ever happened to their society. Cat has been looking at it from the social media pov, but that is too much of our time, IMHO. Even social media isn't, for the most part, terribly disruptive (yet). Things that just are ignored are medical technology. Apparently 300 years from now we'll be able to take apart and reassemble any human(hundreds of miles away) PERFECTLY, but we will still be hampered with our legacy genes with their poor adaptations to modern life.
Really, if you took a Federation human and stuck him in middle america circa 1950 "he'd" be fine for the most part (aside from obvious issues of racism/sexism). Contrast this with a typical Culture human. They'd have "perfect" genetics, "drug" glands, neural lace (sort of a mix of wifi,VR,memory/intelligence enhancement). That's all pretty standard stuff which anyone can get. Any one of those things would make a person almost unrelatable to us.
The assumption (hope?) of ST has been individualism writ large but by not acknowledging that at a certain point what constitutes Invidualism may change, they deny most any fundamental change. What hope is there for individuals if everyone is given "clean" genetics, they might say, so we'll provide good education and medicines but leave the genew alone. Likewise, no enhancements are allowed b/c then exceptionalism is just then a matter of choice, and who wouldn't choose to be exceptional?
Urgh, this felt rambling.
So, TL;DR:
ST isn't really trying to portray the future but is simply retelling the clasic adventure yarns (in space!).


They have almost exactly the same past times as we do. Nothing truly distruptive ever happened to their society.

Well... I'm trying not to go all hardcore Trekkie (honestly, I'm not even THAT big a fan, I didn't even see most of DS9 myself until it came on Netflix), but one thing that is actually interesting is that pretty much the reverse of this is true.

The Trek future is utopian when we're watching, but it's part of their backstory that they've gone through multiple sci-fi dystopias to get there - including one that was probably the closest 1960s TV writers could reasonably be expected to come to a full-fledged Bad Singularity with transhuman technology resulting in good ol' Khan and the gang.


Sorry, hit 'Post' too soon - meant to finish my thought:

Thus, they actually made at least a halfhearted attempt to explain a lot of the regressive elements of Star Trek in-story - this is actually a Post-Singularity society, but their Singularity was so fucked up it almost wiped out humanity, so now they suppress most of that technology to the point that it's basically the only remaining taboo in the Federation.

Of course, that's just a justification - the real reason was that portraying a really futuristic society would be really hard.


"Really Hard" as in "Really Expensive."

But your first paragraph is right on. The singularity did happen in Star Trek and it did considerable damage. They are a "post-singularity" society that has reject much of our current ideas about the singularity.


Thats the BSG universe too - a society post the creation of a hostile artificial intelligence, which has rejected many advanced forms of information technology (as seen in the spin off Caprica). Genetic engineering and eugenics in Star Trek, as well as aversion to AI. And yet...that bloody holodeck is always spawning self-aware holograms - not to mention "the Doctor" in Voyager. Perhaps its evolutionary algorithms? So you can only create AI accidentally via holodeck ;-)?


Given that the new ST movie also makes no mention of social networking at all, nor does Enterprise, and DS9 ended in 1999 when I and many others were already engaged in blogging, and that wasting time is universal to all eras, I still think it's fair to comment on this cutting out of something in the present when talking about the future.


Fair point! Also shown as irredeemably villainous.


Humans in the Star Trek world lost our lazy social tech during an all out nuclear war and the resulting small dark age. Zephram Cochran was a hero, because out of this darkness and decay he hand-built the first warp capable ship, an act of pure hutzpah and optimism. Once you meet aliens and start to build a new civilization, you don't have much time for farmville or twitter updates.

They nearly went extinct during a series of eugenics-driven wars, and so developed a strong cultural taboo against excessive genetic tinkering.

We in the 21st century only waste time because we, as a culture are deeply bored and unfulfilled. Those of us not scratching for food and shelter are trying to find meaning and purpose in a culture dominated by consumerist greed. This gnawing emptiness you feel is your dreams being unfulfilled. People in Star Trek don't have that emptiness because they live in a post scarcity world where no one tells them they can't be an astronaut, or novelist or firefighter or scientist. No setbacks but personal limitations. I'd gladly give up twitter for that.


Which is to say, villainous when networked, only redeemable when removed from the network. Much as Odo is only a sympathetic character when removed from the Link--we are meant to be horrified at him when he abandons himself to it in early-mid S6.


Pretty much! I AM SNEAKY.


It's true, but you never get the idea that they are connected to other people through the holos, that they are playing with others not physically present. It is an RPG, not an MMORPG.


I think this is in part because of an obsession with frontiers and the roles one imagines must become necessary given life on the frontier--ie, traditional gender and family roles. That is crap, of course, but a lot of conservative authors use SF as a way to fantasize about everyone being forced to live the way they think humans should live.

Come to think of it, that's not really a conservative thing, I just hate their fantasy more than others.

portraying a really futuristic society would be really hard

Not quite. Portraying a really futuristic society photorealistically would be really hard. But to portray that society dramatically, without worrying too much about how realistic the CGI or the makeup looks, that can be done and done well. Look at how well Farscape did with puppets and vinyl appliances, or that Doctor Who does, convincing you the Doctor really is an alien (good acting helps a lot, which was a problem for ST:TOS). A TV series has a major advantage over a feature film: it can develop it's view of the world over many episodes. And it can even assume that it's audience consists of intelligent, educated viewers who can figure out a lot of what's going on without being hit over the head.


Actually, I'm pretty sure we do see people doing that kind of thing on CSI and the like--they, embarrassed, shut their monitor off when caught. It's a pretty common "character moment" in non-SF.


I understand that on a meta-narrative level, but it still doesn't make any sense in-universe to have them playing a freaking old card game /and nothing else./ The Risa/sexybrain video game has been brought up by myself and several others, and it's viewed with suspicion by the crew even before turning out to be evil. Most other non 19th-c forms of entertainment are seen similarly. Even the holodeck is not, that I recall, used in gaming such that there is a score, or level, or any of that, it's just a LARP without game component, and even then, they almost always choose to live in the past.


I've commented before that there are good stories to be told about a "Men in Black" organization in the Federation, as the protagonists try desperately to suppress the explosively disruptive technology (genetic upgrades, immortality, intelligence augmentation, time travel, etc) in the hopes of this all happening slowly enough for something recognizably like current society and its inhabitants to survive.

It's clear that the Federation, like our own world, is riding an ever accelerating technological trend. They can survive if their metaphorical vehicle is accelerating smoothly; we've already seen that the G-forces of tech advancement are not killing - just a weird mix of uncomfortable and exciting. But on Star Trek there's an abundance of ways to turn that chemical rocket into an Orion, and too many people ready to chuck a thrust bomb out...


I was sick for about six weeks, thought I was finally over it, then had a monster of a rebound hit me on Monday. Ugh. I'm tired of being sick.


That's fascinating. I hope it's all right if I get my 11th year class to read it - properly credited of course. We are talking about ways of communicating and despite being Estonian they are having trouble seeing beyond their own skype-step.


I'd like to point out that even in the Culture people feel ennui. Typically not to the point of debilitation (again, b/c they spliced those tendancies the fuck out) but it happens. Consider "State of the Art" (the novella where the Culture comes to Earth circa the late 1970s and which has one of my all time favorite scenes featuring a posthuman Culture agent, a friggin lightsaber, and a banquet hall). One of the people in Contact felt that earthlings were living more genuinely and ended up abandoning the Culture.
Now, here you have a Culture Contact agent who says that what he does isn't fulfilling. How is what Contact does different than Starfleet? Why would flying around in a space ship not lead to the same problems? The difference is that the creators of ST want us to see Starfleet as some kind of inherently "noble", thus desired, profession. The reality is that there isn't much that is inherently "noble" which satisfies life cravings. There are lies we tell ourselves in order to get by, and lies we tell others in order to believe the lie.
In ST, the lie is that people, as we are now, don't need to change in order to obtain space heaven. We can get there if only we had x, y, and z.
The truth, IMHO, is that we will, eventually, have to make fundamental changes in what we are if we want to reach our goals (of course the change itself may mean the goals are no longer of interest).



Interesting thread. Never been a Trekker type, so a lot of the discussion has gone completely over my head, but I wanted to chip in my 2cents.

I've often wondered about this whole lack of texting/social media in TV shows thing, not just in the SF context but in general. Now--seeing the connection with ST and their very 19th century pastimes (probably a function of the show's deep debt to old-timey naval tropes)--I wonder if it doesn't have less to do with technological nearsightedness and more to do with narrative mechanics and our understanding of what the Greeks called 'drama' or something like that back in tha day.

Put aside the fact that a scene of watching some dude go nuts on WoW would be very hard for the writers to work into the plotline of any 40min episode (and even then, maybe once a season?). Also, put aside the fact that visually it would be kind of hard to represent onscreen the characters onscreen activities (how to make Wesley's Farmville game exciting to the viewer?)--though I understand Sherlock among others is making strides in exploiting this field.

What I think it comes down to is that TV is still not that far removed from that most ancient of Greek arts, where people wore masks and proclaimed loudly. Deep down, people want to see other people. On a stage. Doing stuff. Stuff besides clicking a mouse and watching lights flash up on their vidmonitor or whatever. Watching some dudes play poker is going to beat out watching someone play Hearts online every time. (Although as an aside, have you ever watched one of these World Series of Poker games on TV? SO much more interesting in the movies, especially if Sean Connery or Paul Newman or somebody is involved.)

Besides, the sort of recursive "Looking at a screen and the people onscreen are looking at a screen" thing is always gonna be just sort of weird. To me, at least.


Ok, quick grab-bag of points:-

1) Gene Roddenbury originally pitched ST:TOS to the networks as "Wagon Train to the Stars"; I've seen DS9 described as "Gunsmoke in the Stars" (Other Westerns series set in towns are available. ;-) ).
2) As others have observed, once you get holodeck technology for RPGs then computer avatar rpgs (flat screen, pseudo-3D and smallish scale holotanks) all become redundant if you can afford holodeck time.
3) Particularly relating to post #6 para3, just how often did ST actually acknowledge sexuality of any form (Kirk's ability to pull anything with XX chromosomes and a pulse aside)? The closest I can come to believable there is the Bashir-O'Brien bromance, and that was offset a bit by the incredulity required to believe that anyone would be attracted to Cake-hole!


Sorry, still unconvinced. DS9 ended then, but had an established universe and didn't change it with blogging. Plus you're changing the ground rules - you're protesting the lack of social networking and MMORPGs originally. Blogging can be just diarising - you can argue that back to Kirk they've done that with entries to the ship's log. We never see them writing in their diaries (or on their blogs) because it's dull from a dramatic POV.

As for the Trek movie I haven't seen it. But as I understand it's a sort of prequel to ST:TOS - as such it's got the ground rules for the universe which don't include Fb and WOW. While some of the items might be seen as a commentary on today's situation, it's also got to fit the established universe of Star Trek.


@TV Serials - I'm sorry, but a spammer claiming that they actually have a friend is stretching the borders of credibility a bit too far!

[[ Moderator note: replying to spammers may cause thread confusion when one of us then deletes the spam ]]


Para 1 - A "captain's log" is a formal daily report of matters relating to ship's operations, missions, administrative punishments dealt out to the crew, that sort of thing. It is nothing like a personal diary in which Kirk records how many Orion women he slept wit that day!

Para 2 - The JJ Abrams film is more of a "second alternate timeline" if we take TOS as one, and the Mirror universe as another. It's also a decent enough action space opera, but is not Star Trek!


Social media are having interesting effects on the propagation of information and links. An example that came to my attention last night was as follows:

Back last year, Aephraim Steinberg of the University of Toronto published a paper "Observing the Average Trajectories of Single Photons in a Two-Slit Interferometer".

Mitch Benn did a funny song about it for the Now Show on BBC Radio 4.

Three days later, he had got an email from Steinberg in Canada complimenting him on the song. Some listener had taken the song from the radio, stuck an animation of Professor Brian Cox on it, and put the result on YouTube.

And someone had spotted that on YouTube, and forwarded the link to Steinberg. Who emailed Mitch.

This is a terribly non-hierarchical process, and I can imagine all sorts of things (mostly unknown unknowns) coming out of similar ad-hoc links.


That reminds me, I had an explanation for that the first time round. "The kind of people who liked advanced entertainment didn't breed." Of course, it's not actually very good, but imagine a hundred years progress in entertainment. What's left are the others, who view such things with horror.


Or that nobody deploys ground troops in large formations because there's no point, they're too easy to destroy from orbit (or even stun, in an episode I watched only the other month).


Plus you're changing the ground rules - you're protesting the lack of social networking and MMORPGs originally. Blogging can be just diarising - you can argue that back to Kirk they've done that with entries to the ship's log. We never see them writing in their diaries (or on their blogs) because it's dull from a dramatic POV.

Whilst some blogs can be simply diaries mostly they are commentaries on something. Either way the key difference between a diary and a blog is that a blog is public and a diary is private! A captains log is just a log of what is going on, it's the same as any report that ST characters constantly give each other (by physically meeting and handing a physical pad over rather than simply emailing the report from one part of the ship to another). You don't see average Jo Redshirt reading the captains blog and leaving comments or discussing it round their poker games.

Regarding the gaming aspect I think this point is just one of many that represents a worship of the past. Yes they play games but they are always Sherlock mysteries or 16th century naval adventures. The only "futuristic" scenario ever seen is in ST-V when they create a simulation of a Parisian bar or play in a black-and-white "retro future from the 1950s" captain proton scenario.


Yes they play games but they are always Sherlock mysteries or 16th century naval adventures.

Because these are the sorts of adventures that the feature characters are interested in.

Assume that the series still exists, and drop Cat and I onto the NCC-1701 D (or E); We'd probably want to team up to play Final Fantasy Elebentee!


Yes, but once you control orbital space, still no ground troops? Leaving the only option orbital bombardment of whoever you don't like. A bit like the US drone warfare in Pakistan, but on a much bigger scale.


For all those into being criminals by watching pirate stuff:


Re 53

(Apologies in advance if someone already responded)

"In our world, the USA of the 1960s and 1970s before the rise of social media and WoW put men on the moon. Now it can't."

Forty and fifty years before, someone would be harshing on TV and comic books. The USA of the 1960s and 1970s put men on the moon because it was at war - we were just fighting this campaign with high concepts, engineering and propaganda rather than high explosives and blood. These days, if there was money to be made in the next fiscal year by going to the moon, we'd have left 15 minutes ago.

The fact that we can still make a distinction between wasting time and not wasting time shows how Victorian-style restraint and Calvinist moralism still have a pernicious hold on us. There would be no such thing as "wasting time" in a post-scarcity society.


It's a bit grim, but if you have the ability to stun a whole city, you wouldn't need many ground troops. You just send in an away team to round up or butcher the enemy's cells. The people wouldn't like it but what are they going to do when you effectively wield godlike powers from space?

In fact the impression I've had all along, ever since watching TNG in my early teens, is that the Federation is a not particularly nice regime and more than happy to repress its own people in the name of unity. If you look at their world from that premise I find it perfectly believable that things like social networks are non-existent. We already live in the world of social networks and yet there are plenty of regimes around the world who are trying to stop their people having this level of meta-communication.

In the confined areas of a spacecraft or station it would be much simpler to control these things, have all communications be voice/video going via the central computer system. Of course everyone seems to be reasonably happy and don't particularly mention this repression, but the same is true for people in North Korea today (who is going to speak out against the regime when there is an omnipresent computer monitoring your every action).


Because these are the sorts of adventures that the feature characters are interested in.

That's the weird thing, why are they all into this kind of stuff? It makes about as much sense as someone writing a story in the present where Call of Duty is knocked of the best seller list by Shakespeare: the video game.

If they like mysteries why do they always have to deep mine the past? Has no more fiction been made in the hundreds of years since Sherlock and Starfleet? Sherlock Holmes might be a classic but even nowadays we have (a damn good) modern reinterpretation on our TVs and on top of that why aren't there any future classics?

The odd past-worship behaviour of the crew for things like Shakespeare, classical music, Sherlock Holmes etc is juxtaposed by the fact that they have turned the millennia old game of chess into some bizzare 3D version.

I think that what we see in things like Star Trek is an effort to make the characters relatable whilst also trying to make the characters the pinnacle of intellectualism and culture. In doing so we're presented with a rather disturbing and homogeneous view of the future.


It's a bit grim, but if you have the ability to stun a whole city, you wouldn't need many ground troops. You just send in an away team to round up or butcher the enemy's cells. The people wouldn't like it but what are they going to do when you effectively wield godlike powers from space?...In the confined areas of a spacecraft or station it would be much simpler to control these things, have all communications be voice/video going via the central computer system.

In fact it could be even easier than that. The federation could easily put ubiquitous surveillance throughout an occupied world (not just cameras but their miraculous sensor/scanners that can do a planetary census from lighyears away: "Captain there is an M-class planet 16 lightyears away, 6 billion lifesigns"). They could place ships in orbit with orbit-to-surface stun and kill weapons and build orbital prisons. The moment any trouble kicks off (from a conspiracy to a riot) the whole lot can be stunned before transported directly into cells of the prison ship.

They can see everything, knock you out from beyond your reach and teleport you and any other items through space. Suppressing a violent uprising would be as easy as tapping a few buttons.


In STTN Patrick Stewart (Picard) really is a Shakespearian actor. That may have something to do with it.


Here's a question: has anyone done the mashup of special forces vs. Jedi? Or better yet, someone meeting a jedi with "Say hello to my leetle frieend." Heck, give me a marine recon battalion and we won't have to worry about stormtroopers any more. They wouldn't even see what hit them

Stormtroopers, sure. They are unbelievably incompetent soldirs. Jedi, not so sure. Their most valuable power is precognition: Jedi knows couple seconds in advance who is going to shoot him and from where. That's how they dodge laser beams -- by moving aside before the opponent pulls the trigger. They can be overwhelmed by firepower -- cannot "dodge" a fuel-air explosion even if you know it is coming, -- but are very difficult to defeat by finesse.


Yes, it's an appeal to legitimacy, associating "childish" media such as sci fi with more respected forms like Shakespearean theatre.

Again, it's a meta thing, we keep trying to analyze Trek as an accurate simulation of the future, which it is not. The hard sci fi viewpoint can be very inflexible.


Lost the number of the comment, but someone I think nailed it in that Star Trek in any of it's iterations is not Science Fiction, it does not try to predict the future and how we deal with it, it is (at best) a commentary on *now* (for given values of now) and at worst an excuse for cool whizz-bangery to happen. Harking back to a point I advanced on one of Cat's previous thread, a science fiction storyline is constrained by the limits of the available technology, a fantasy story line defines the tecnology it requires to prgress from Plot-Point-A to Plot-Point-B; which category does Star Trek fit into?

None of this is intended as bashing Star Trek, I've enjoyed many happy hours watching TOS, TNG, DS9 and the movies (ignored the more recent series, just didn't catch my interest) -- but I never expect it to challenge my assumptions or intellect in a serious way.

On the point of Cat's real thrust being commenting on the ubiquity of social media and networking: I think you have to stretch pretty far to come up with a scenario that causes the human race to dump it's prediliction for ever greater inter-personal communication. A huge driving force of our species has been to increase communication: language - writing - printing - telegraph - telephone - television - Internet (desktop) - Internet (smart devices) - and so on. A few people have speculated that Star Trek does present a future where there has been this enormous backlash against communication and networking, but I think Charlie nails our response much better in "Glasshouse": With the 'gates in the Glasshouse future we essentially have the end point of networked communication, and even though there has been a cataclysmic war facilitated by the very existance of the 'gates, the human race continues to use them. We simply can't, as a species, regress down the communications/networking ladder.


On a similar theme, I was reading The While People by Arthur Machen:
In it this is a discussion of the nature of true evil. It seems that me and my friends are also evil by his definition as well.

Care to elaborate?


Does anyone remember waaaaay back in the day, the immensely long running Usenet debate on whether a Galaxy-class Enterprise could defeat a Star Destroyer, or vice-versa?

Let's not go there again (although I'm sure the debate is still running out there in the Interwebs somewhere)!


"I think I must reply to your question by another. What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?
"Well, these examples may give you some notion of what sin really is."

The past is another country - as is the future


the computer technology of both civilizations is hopelessly outdated
one of our cruise missiles could fly itself down the death star's trench and down the exhaust port
on its own, no risk to our lot

the real fun, I think would be a Skynet event in the federations computers, or in Star wars either one


Evidently, Machen was not fond of the concept of Fairyland.


Kind of the premise of BSG (the remake, at any rate).


Well of course there is no social media... that is because there is no media, period. No Federation TV channel... no new movies, shows, plays... No pop music, no teen idols, no video games, no celebrities, gossip, politicians, or, in other words, anything resembling a modern human culture. Culturally, the federation is stuck in the middle ages.


It's more nuanced than that.
It's is a persistent belief that what is not natural is evil. Creating "un-naturalness" being the work of Black Magicians. Of which, Transhumanists must top the evil list in this case.
I devoted a chapter in my book to the topic, and am expanding it in the next one:


Of course, there's also the chance that we'd just pretend that we can't here talking cats, or that they just said "miaow". Could we call it Gaspode-Pratchett syndrome?


No one wastes time in the Star Trek universe?

Well, Cat, actually there are a lot of people who waste time in the Star Trek universe. They are the post-Singularity inhabitants, the weakly god-like superior beings. You know, the Organians, the Metrons, the naughty little boy known as Trelane, and of course the Q. And to some extent the Prophets.

They all seem to be like Stanislaw Lem's HPLDs in the Cyberiad, in which the citizens of the most advanced civilization in the universe "lie around all day in a dirty, littered desert and do nothing but scratch themselves and pick their noses". Or so it seems to us animals.

I would submit that Roddenberry's vision (Horatio Hornblower in Space, not the pitched Wagon Train to the Stars), the psychology behind the tropes, is more in line with an 18th century idealized utopia as opposed to a 1960s classic liberalism. Sure, there's modern elements, but if you look at two of the foundational ideas of the republican-with-a-small-r elites: Latinity and Calvinism, then the paucity of slack makes perfect sense. Actually, it's all very neoliberal, almost Tea Party creepy.

Yeah, they like Shakespeare in the future, but everyone knows he shamelessly stole from the Romans. If you really want to get Roddenberry, look no further than George Washington's favorite play, George Washington’s favorite play was Joseph Addison’s Cato, published in 1713. Honor above all else. Personal public honor is achieved through good works. There is no Randian rational self-interest within the Federation. That's only for people who have climbed the ladder of evolution.

And then Calvinism, oh my gosh. Not so much the corrupted by the Fall angle, but the redemption is present. What is the reward of hard work? Rest! Why can't I just straight to slack! Nah! Yah gotta earn it baby!

But let's not make too much of ST. I mean, compare it to other space opera of the 1960s. (Well, actually, if you ignore the camp, Lost In Space was probably more realistic, where every alien encounter was vastly superior to humanity, and the Robinsons were basically looked at as well, cute vermin, raccoons that built a star drive. Refreshing, but keep 'em out of your advanced spaceship. They'll just trash the place and poop all over everything).


Did you just call me an intellectual? ;-)

I like Shakespeare (performed, not read), read 100 or more year old fiction, have played 3D-chess (and it's a very different game to 2D tactically)...


Um, can I suggest that the reason for Star Trek's love of old literature is that the copyright had run out, so that they could use it without paying anyone?

Or did I just breach the fourth wall there?

The real problem with quoting that 21st Century classic is that someone has to write the quotes. That requires a bit of time and a bit of money, and for a TV series, these are sometimes in short supply. Especially the time part. Worse, whatever the poor scriptwriter came up with could suck, or simply be incomprehensible to the viewers. Imagine, for example, Rule 34 being classic literature in the Star Trek Universe, a text that was required reading for ninth graders. Put that in as an amusing subplot on DS9.

Shakespeare is widely known, free for the taking, known to the some of the actors, and (sorry Charlie) more generally useful in context.


The Borg apparently do have social media.

And, they do not care much about their personal appearance. Probably because we did not install the right mods to see their avatars?

And they apparently have some smart cookies, even if a lot of them are not very bright.



You certainly can, but Dixon Hill was created by the ST:TNG writers.


DS9 did show a MIB-type organization at one point, a temporal police that tried to keep a lid on all the time travel that the series overindulged in.

Agent: "Are you going to tell us that it was a predestination paradox? That you were fated to go back in time to make things turn out the way they did historically?"

Sisko: "No!"

Agent: "Good. We hate that."


So many plots involve people not having ubiquitous access to information and other people. But nowadays, it's hard to accept a future where people won't be always connected.

They won't need tri-corders, the devices won't be visible. But they will be there, or at least their functionality will be there.


lol I guess I did :) I think the difference between me (and perhaps yourself) is that though I enjoy Shakespeare and reading classics I still enjoy watching the odd crappy TV program, drinking a bit too much and slobing on my sofa in my PJs.

In ST I can't see a captain ever walking in on his number one to find him drinking beer and eating pizza in his underwear on a holodeck sofa (whilst an episode of Ferengi Big Brother goes on around him).


Heh. I read once that the plots of all early episodes of "Buffy the vampire slayer" would have been short-circuited if participants had cell phones.


In ST I can't see a captain ever walking in on his number one to find him drinking beer and eating pizza in his underwear on a holodeck sofa (whilst an episode of Ferengi Big Brother goes on around him).

In all fairness, how often does that happen aboard a modern warship?


The Federation doesn't like someone? Transport them out into space. Or stun the rioters from orbit and arrest whoever you'd like. The technological alternatives make enforcement fairly easy.


Or, in Enterprise:-
Agent to Archer - "Kirk; the man's a menace. Most violations ever."


In all fairness, how often does that happen aboard a modern warship?

The scenario I offered was to highlight a point rather than the specific content. Even so whilst I've never been in the armed forces fly-on-wall documentaries and discussions with friends who have been haven't make me any more endeared to the idea that it is the organisation of starfleet that maintains the intellectual purity of the crew. Going by what I've seen and heard a wall of page 3 pin ups and homoerotic/toilet humour wouldn't surprise me in a "naval" setting.


"No one exhibits poor or even mediocre time management. All are paladins of self-organization."

Although this, as with the rest of the post, is spot on, there is a ST:TNG episode in which one, recurring character (Barclay) does exhibit poor time management, and gets hooked on the Holodeck..


There was a Star Trek Novel, The Romulan Way, by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood, that provided some backstory to the Romulan-Vulcan split. Basically, the dissenters from Surak's path of logic emigrated in sub-light generation ships and eventually became the Romulans.

Because they had a LOT of time with nothing to do (beyond running the ships and raising subsequent generations), they spent all of their leisure time engaged with each other on "The Net", a computer network that all of the ships shared (they were close enough together for radio communications). Since the book was written in 1987, the Net was portrayed as a sophisticated BBS.

During the generations in transit, the future Romulans discussed anything and everything at length, and eventually "re-wrote" their entire culture, so that by the time they disembarked on their new homeworlds, they had created a new language, religion, etc.


Copyright is something like 70 years, so it would be difficult to quote a hard-boiled detective without writing him yourself. Of course, you're right, Garrison Keillor comes up with "Guy Noir, Private Eye" skits every few weeks, so it's not impossible.


They could place ships in orbit with orbit-to-surface stun and kill weapons and build orbital prisons. The moment any trouble kicks off (from a conspiracy to a riot) the whole lot can be stunned before transported directly into cells of the prison ship.

Or to a few kilometres above the surface, unsupported, for anyone who needs a quick altitude adjustment.


One vast and seldom questioned assumption that is common across most of SF is that not only Humans but aliens wear clothes. Even in ideal temperate conditions aboard starships and habitats.


William Gibson's talk about the cyborg ( ) is actually quite applicable to your conversation.


One vast and seldom questioned assumption that is common across most of SF is that not only Humans but aliens wear clothes. Even in ideal temperate conditions aboard starships and habitats.

One vast and seldom questioned assumption that is common across most of Earth is that Humans wear clothes. Even in ideal temperate conditions aboard starships and habitats. That's because clothing has more functions than protecting one's body from the elements, and in most cases, its social functions predominate.


"...someone I think nailed it in that Star Trek in any of it's iterations is not Science Fiction, it does not try to predict the future and how we deal with it, it is (at best) a commentary on *now* (for given values of now) and at worst an excuse for cool whizz-bangery to happen."

By that criterion, a whole lot of written sf isn't science fiction either.


By the way, I'd like to congratulate Cat for coming up with two endlessly entertaining topics in a row. Especially with a cold. Bravo!


"That's because clothing has more functions than protecting one's body from the elements, and in most cases, its social functions predominate."

Historically, not in most of Africa and S America. Body decoration, jewellery and harnesses for carrying things yes. But not clothing in the European sense.



WRT film science fiction I agree -- but that's because "aliens" in movies are usually human actors, and having them naked would cause problems (in some countries, anyway). But I read plenty of SF where aliens either had no clothes at all, or strictly functional clothes.

And heteromeles is right WRT humans -- clothes serve social functions. Not to mention that even in most benign climes, you want to protect some parts of you.


Has someone written a fanfic that does for the borg what Peter Watts did for the Thing in his short story? It strikes me that people nowadays might be ready for a story that recasts them in a more positive light, from their POV.

re> clothes. Larry Niven featured nudism heavily in his stories, making the point feeling naked is more about vulnerability than weather. His aliens tend to be naked, moties, kzin, pak wear harnesses with pockets.

Again we had Dr. Manhattan parading nude in a movie a few years ago so we might be ready.

Although I have to say the early ST:NG jumpsuits were rather form fitting. If I'm not wrong the designs evolved a little modesty as the cast aged.


The Borg are actually a likely outcome of networking tech as soon as high bandwidth neural implants become possible. For example, if the current work on creating an electronic hippocampus succeeds and these are then networked together in individuals.


While you don't have your own TV on a modern ship, I assure you that beer, pizza, and discussing BB is much more common than an all-ship Shakespeare reading.


I'm taking clothing in the wider version. The fact that people either didn't have things like weaving and cloth doesn't mean they weren't wearing clothing. Even a koteka* is effectively clothing, since you have to wear a rather large one to have it useful for anything other than it's social function. Useful, in this case, is that some men in some tribes store their cigarettes in their kotekas...

*Note to Charlie: when you redo Palimpsest, can you have them not wear kotekas and ride camels? I get the joke, but that's really in the goofy class with Conan wearing a fur kilt while riding a stallion and swinging a 90 pound sword one-handed. Only more painful.


Look, this waste of time is perfectly portrayed in Hyperdrive, an obscure BBC SciFi-Series, that deals with a tiny British fleet in vast space and some lazy captain, lazy crew and even a lazy ship computer voice. I first thought of a normal SciFi satire, but it is more. It deals with the fact that in a normal universe where everything is regulated and abundant, humans will be bored to death.


Just a couple of things.

StarTrek is SF (for most definitions), its just not considered good SF. The problems with ST have a lot to due with the limitations of (American) Network television. The Series writers bible is available for most of the series and provides the "formula" for each episode script to follow (3 acts, events per act, etc), which is why the major revel/ plot point happens at the 45 min mark. Science terms were discouraged, instead writers were encouraged to write "insert Technobable here" into their scripts. Theoretically a science adviser world overlook the scripts, but this rarely happened. Also, especially early in TNG, special effects were to expensive, so they were discouraged. The scripts were written by a wide variety of writers (technically anyone could submit a ST script) which explains the inconsistency between episodes (tech X invented in one ep and promptly forgot a few eps later).

What all these restrictions left were basically a low cost ensemble drama shot almost entirely on a sound stage with pre-built sets. Its amazing that this show achieved a following at all

Anyways, time for my pet theory about the Star Trek universe. I always found the politics of the federation a bit strange, almost fascist. Especially the anti-technology stance in regard to body modification. No cosmetic surgery / age retarding medicine / immortality / mind body enhancements etc. When acknowledged, it is regarded as bad/illegal. This all traces back to the eugenics wars. Now, this is where my theory starts. What if the Eugenics wars were a civil war between different factions that the geneticists lost and were exiled. The post-humans realizing that the rest of the population cannot deal with the consequences of the advanced tech, hide themselves, and shape society to slow the rate of technological advance to something the "normals" can handle.


Here's the thing I always wondered about Next Gen's poker games. OK, so you have sitting at the table:

- Troi the empath, who can tell if you're bluffing or not,

- Data the android, who is so fast as shuffling he can stack the deck and you'd never notice (his assurances that the cards are sufficiently randomised to the contrary), and who has a computer-like ability to calculate probabilities,

- Geordi, who in one episode reveals that his visor lets him see into the infrared and read your cards from the back,

- Riker, who decides who gets pay raises, gets to go on shore leave or gets bad duties, who gets to go on away missions (and come back), etc., and

- Worf, who loses a lot.


Barclay (Broccoli) is one of my favorite ST:TNG characters. Barclay's holo-addiction was symptomatic of poor social skills - the morale being that healthy, well-adjusted human/sentient beings will continue to prefer real-time in-person communication. The holodeck while mostly used for group/team-building entertainment, was also used to recreate/solve crimes, model/solve complex ship engine design problems as well as for physical exercise/martial arts practice.

Starfleet captains and crew recorded personal logs (ST:TNG).

Social media - outside the Enterprise: In one ST:TNG episode Data befriends a young girl whose planet is being torn apart by earthquakes which results in Picard disobeying the Prime Directive so that Data can save her. This episode suggests that real-time, identified and anonymous social-media communication problems were considered by the script writers. Not having any military background I'd like to ask: does anyone know whether modern-day soldiers who probably do have access to military-grade smartphones and the Internet tweet while on the battlefield/active duty?

Shakespeare, classical music/instruments, etc. -- soldiering/exploring is an ancient profession so I imagine even in the future it would continue to attract individuals with a strong affinity for the past. As captain, Picard reinforces this by his love of paper books, Shakespeare, and as an expert in (xeno-)antiquities. In rel life - bagpipes, horns and drums have been around since ancient Greece, and they're still popular in military/Thanksgiving parades. No one's suggested replacing them with a moog. (Imagine a parade with teens/soldiers dressed up in uniforms and moving/twirling their iPhones in perfect synchrony ... .)

A 24/7 work environment and poker -- the only analogous work environment I can think of is a hospital which often has 4 different shifts over the course of the week. A few TS:TNG episodes showed different senior officers as acting captains during a night-shift so it's likely that between crises the senior officers don't get a chance to socialize. Poker offers a relaxed couple of hours to unwind and reconnect as peers while the holodeck would be an overstimulating and inappropriate environment for this purpose. (Like cooking methods --- we'll probably have an expanding menu of best-for-situation/purpose methods of communication, entertainment, training, etc.) If the Enterprise runs on only 2 or 3 shifts, everyone's trying to catch up on their sleep therefore hasn't the time to use the holodeck -- which needs to be programmed - and we don't know how how much effort/technical skill this requires. (Only the really techy types are ever shown using the holodeck, so it may be harder to use than other forms of entertainment. Hence the lounge/bar ... wher we also tend to see more junior and non-comm staff.)


Loads of soldiers play wargames when not out doing the real thing, even if the real thing was a patrol in Afghanistan a few hours earlier.


I'd say all of that is true - but it's also why I kind of found Deep Space 9 a lot more interesting than the others. Especially in the later seasons, the goal of the show seemed to largely be an effort to examine all of the Series Bible assumptions for TOS and TNG, and then pry the lid off and look at how they would actually work (or would fail to work, in some cases).

It never totally transcended its source material, but it managed to do some things that were much more interesting than I typically expect from Trek, occasionally as legit science fiction and (more often) as simple drama.

For instance - in the later seasons of the show, Jake is a blogger. They didn't have the word 'blogger' yet, so nobody calls him that. But he's writing observations about his experience living on the station during wartime, transmitting it over an intersteller information network for free consumption, for no pay other than the edification of knowing people are reading what he writes. We are further given to understand that this model has pretty much replaced traditional news media in the Federation.


Very interesting - thanks!

Not familiar with these games: do these games allow the players to communication with each other in real-time?


Is it really possible to waste time?

Try classifying all activity. For example: working creatively, working mindlessly, consuming media, daydreaming, doing nothing, sleeping.

(This is an imperfect and incomplete scheme, but perhaps sufficient for now.)

Of all these, 'doing nothing', aka meditating, is thought by some to confer large benefits to physical and psychological health.

Yet people find it very hard to do. And it is hard to *explain* why it is not a waste of time.

'Working mindlessly' is what most people spend most of their time doing at their jobs, in the present day, and for most of history.

This might reasonably be thought of as wasting time (from the point of view of human fulfillment).

Yet it is the most socially accepted form of wasting time. We respect people who go to jobs!


It's creative rather than consumption. ST characters, even in their leisure time, are creating content; or at the very least, interacting with content. There's no sitting back and watching/reading (save for a book.) Everything is interactive. Everything is participatory. (a big Burning Man ethic, by the way.) You don't consume a game, you make a game. You don't play a holodeck game, you sculpt it with your choices, often in directions that were not preplanned. People perform concerts, admire the arts, contribute. There's no talk of "zoning out."

It's not just a result of storytelling limitations, it's a nod towards a society that's more 'productive' with it's spare time -- one that spends time writing wikipedia, not posting comments on youtube (to make a modern analogy.) I'm not sure you can have one without the other; but Star Trek does.


DS9 was specifically intended to identify and play up conflict - interpersonal, social, economic, etc. - mostly to differentiate itself from ST:TNG. Don't recall that it did a good job on creative conflict resolution though.

B5 which aired around the same time was much more interesting.


Yes - I play an old version of a wargame, Wolfenstein ET where up to 64 people at a time can play on one map. Not sure what the limit is with more modern games, but most of the fun is to be had playing real people across the world.


It's mentioned form time to time (mostly in the later movies) that Star Fleet does have marines. They show up form time to time in the second, third and sixth movie (they're the guys in black and white body armor that can easily be mistaken for standard security). Why they aren't in TNG or DS9, I don't know. You'd think the Enterprise would have it's own battalion and DS9 would have a regiment. But that's just one of my gripes about TNG. Rodenberry wasn't thinking practically about necessities of operating a large fleet in space.


Yes - B5 was far superior in terms of political structures etc


Lost the number of the comment, but someone I think nailed it in that Star Trek in any of it's iterations is not Science Fiction, it does not try to predict the future and how we deal with it, it is (at best) a commentary on *now* (for given values of now)

Bizarrely enough there was a show on the BIO channel today that was made in 1991 where Nemoy and Shatner said exactly that. The plots were commentaries on social conditions of the day.


Heh. I read once that the plots of all early episodes of "Buffy the vampire slayer" would have been short-circuited if participants had cell phones.

Watch any (US at least) cop type of show from the past. Rockford, Kojack, Dragnet, etc... They all look silly today when you look at how much of the plot would vanish if they had cell phones. There's a phrase that's repeated all the time in them. "Can I use your phone?"


One vast and seldom questioned assumption that is common across most of SF is that not only Humans but aliens wear clothes. Even in ideal temperate conditions aboard starships and habitats.

Clothes (for those of us without fur) keep the friction points down. Try existing around your house without them. Chairs, cooking, cleaning, etc... are a PITA. Literally.


All the Borg do is social network. When they are in those alcoves they are playing Farmville, WoW or Minecraft or updating their BorgBook wall. None of them even notice @sevonof9's rack because they too busy jerking over /r/gonewild or posting gore and ponies on /b.

Occasionally the queen of 4chan/reddit/borg calls them out of their alcove circle jerks to raid someone and acquire technology and pick up a few new members. As soon as they are done - back into the alcove. The federation are in a worthy idealistic struggle to bring freedom, science and moral superiority to the Universe and the Borg are just doing it for the lulz.

Seems a sound reflection of the online vs offline world to me.


That whole "queen of the borg" thing was just BS


Put aside the fact that a scene of watching some dude go nuts on WoW would be very hard for the writers to work into the plotline of any 40min episode

Did it in "Big Bang Theory". can be done....and well.


've been struck particularly by two things missing from the DS9 universe--one unpredictable in the 1993-99 span of the series, and one predictable but unattractive from the creators' standpoint. Nobody uses social media, and nobody wastes time.

Yeah, Social Media was got out of favor by 2022 and is historically considered as a fad.

The lack of cat videos I find more distracting.


Yeah, Social Media was got out of favor by 2022 and is historically considered as a fad.

The lack of cat videos I find more distracting.

Lol! In all seriousness though social networking via online media will end when social networking via physical meetings or the internet end.


I always wondered about the leather harnesses that John Carter and Deja Thoris wore. They were running around a desert for Ghu's sake; I'd certainly like to be wearing shorts, at least, to keep the sand out of my tender crevices. And I doubt that thoat backs were smooth and soft.


As an alternative SciFi view of being always connected, Take a look at the StarGate episode "Revisions". Perhaps being always connected and relying on centralized information isn't a good thing ;)


A couple of years ago I spent quite a bit of time thinking about what constant connection to the internet via direct connection to the speech centers of the brain and to muscle signals would be like. For one thing, there would probably be a way to maintain private conversations with several people at once (imagine making snide remarks to your best friend about the more public conversations around the table in the local pub). For another, consider that there are now more machines on the net that aren't directly controlled by people than that are (webcams, refrigerators, coffee pots, seismic detectors, weather stations, and so on), and that the number is increasing exponentially. Within the next 20 or 30 years light switches could be obsolete (just twitch a finger to send a message to the light controller to turn on the light) and so could remote controls (they'll probably be at least partially replaced by voice command systems before that). If you want to know where the flashlight is, just ask (subvocally, so as not to disturb other people).

It may be just my prejudices about the importance of tactile interfaces, but I suspect that we're going to be living in a world were we can feel where things are and tell them what to do at a distance by motioning. That's going to make the way people think of their environment as different from the way we see things as mobile phones and mapping searches have made us see our world differently from a generation ago.

And that's hard to describe in text (I tried a few experiments), but it would be even harder in visuals on TV or in movies. Though it might be fun to try.


I've long suspected that the reason the Trek Universe human entertainment stops at Shakespeare plays and classical music concerts is that the unpleasantness leading up to the Eugenics Wars meant that most late 20th Century and 21st Century entertainment vanished through a combination of bitrot and DRM for which all the keys had been lost.

Anything recorded on film or vinyl had a fair chance of surviving. Magnetic tape, CDs / DVDs, solid state cards, not so much.


There are two more depressing explanations that come up.

First of, I'm just dealing with a broken hard drive that may or may not come back. Which houses quite a lot of SF. Ooch. So, maybe the reason there are no 21st century classics in Star Trek is that electronic publishing really caught on, and we either lost the data in some freak accidents, like some guy erasing some RW media to store his German Scheisse porn collection, or the media became obsolete and we couldn't read it, and of course we have sepcifications for the interfaces, but they are on these media, where we also have no hardware, but the specifications... You get the picture.

Note, it just occured to me that the subplot of 'Memoirs found in a Bathtub', namely, civilization breaks down because cellulose paper is destroyed by a microscopic plague, seems quite unlikely today. Though with regards to some blach swan affecting digital media, the consequences would be quite dire, especially since most libraries use some electronic catalogue system. Yes, we're doomed.

Second of, we could tie in the lack of social networking services in ST; using Facebook, Twitter and like kept people occupied and lowered literary output, err, of course, there was lots of literature on Facebook, Twitter etc., but then, let's just say haiku is somewhat limited in information, AKA plot content. Which first of led to a dearth of literature longer than 140 characters, second of, to a heavy social taboo on social networking services, and everybody is so embarrased by the whole episode that they don't talk about it, just like the look of the Klingons in TOS.

As a side note, it might just be that the privacy intrusion of the major players, e.g. Facebook etc., led users to use other services, which had quite some problems with storage. Err, if you excuse me, I just have to dd a hard disk. Or similar.


ill have to check that out. You know an episode number or title?


Question - is social media as ubiquitous and omnipresent as is promoted? I only dip my toe in via Facebook once every couple of weeks - most of it is so inane and meaningless (lamb chops! Yum!) or something about the Biggest Loser ad nauseum as to be worthless. If a global catastrophe (Anthropocene) did eventuate, perhaps priorities and social mores would be reassessed. Or perhaps future psychologists have assessed private communications devices (barring communicators/walkie talkers) as being useful, but that our monkey brains needed personal contact - not holographic/virtual - to remain healthy.

Prior to the Third World War, the all-pervasive information exchage/computer network called the "Internet" enabled people to engage in communications based activities; facilitated by "Social Media". Easy access to pornography, the lack of consequence for 'online' bad behaviour and constant bombardment of useless information, did in many psychologists' opinion, lead to widespread moral degeneration and social dysphoria - contributing to an inability to deal with real world issues. This period laid the moral and logical framework for the Eugenics Wars and subsequent Third World War.

Also - the society in Star Trek is (usually) purely a military one - is it an accurate reflection of the whole Federation? Someone referred to them as Space Amish, I as Interstellar Boy Scouts. What if Star Fleet crew are extremists - morally and technologically? Star Fleet selects the best and the brightest, then sends them for indoctrination at Star Fleet Academy. Thou Shalt Not have sex, Thou Shalt Not Engage in Virtual Ffun, Thou Shalt Not replicate fusion weapons, Thou Wilt Learn to Crash a Shuttle Safely, Thou Wilt Not Break the Prime Directive or Time Directive (unless you have a sort of good reason, or feel sappy).


Another idea is that the explosion of published content might mean that older works are more, err, interrelated, e.g. Huxley's 'Brave New World' references Shakespeare, lots of people reference Huxley, people who reference Shakespeare also reference religious writers etc. So, in case of disrupting events, it'd be quite easy to reconstruct a canon of older works. With modern media, that'd be somewhat of a problem, since the references would be somewhat more diffused.

I remember some paper where they did a network analysis of UNIX services compared to E. coli enzymes; though I have some problems with this idea and the results, it might be interesting to do a thing like this with literature and look for clusters etc.

Which might be interesting for the kind of literature James Joyce did, since the background of readers becomes much too diverse to make something like 'Ulysses' work. E.g. comment on your beard with a friend and explain to his non-ST, non-Futurama, non-SouthPark viewing girlfriend why both of you are wildly grinning.

As a sidenote, anybody ever tried to find his way in a library without a catalog? Especially one without the Dewey decimal system and Conan the Librarian?


re: Barsoomian clothing. Personally, I'm deeply offended that the upcoming movie version chose to forgo the indigenous costuming. Really.

Otherwise, I agree. I think L. Sprague de Camp even did a parody of this, at one point. Just think about riding one of those wild thoats all day with no padding...


I'm being very serious when I tell you that this sort of thing happens a LOT more often than you would imagine! We can't order a pizza in, but most certainly do have alcohol (UK navy). We also behave in ways that would seem very strange in the eyes of most poeople who are not military sailors (I'm not referring to the stereotypical 'hello sailor' malarkey). One case in point being an officer banished from the wardroom by the XO for building a pyramid of the *many* cans of beer he'd been drinking throughout the day. :-) I should note that this was pretty acceptable as we were alongside, and said officer didn't have any duties to attend to that day. If we'd been at sea, then it would have been a safety issue, and thus Not Acceptable Behaviour. When you take the junior rates into account, it gets even stranger, and I shan't be posting any of it online!


You must keep in mind that humans in Star Trek live in a utopia where there is no poverty and no racism. How do you think they achieved this if they were sitting on their asses reading twitter all day?


Another way to explain the lack of social media, and the Internet generally, in Trek is to say the copyright mafia dismantled the Internet to stop copyright infringement.


The webcomic starslip explores a lot of the themes of this discussion, being a parody of star trek (Among others) in which the starship is a travelling museum (Well, was for most of the lifetime of the strip). Misinterpreted ancient trivia is a recurring gag, like encountering an ancient mobile phone with a bunch of sms-speak messages on it makes the character exclaim "Ah, poetry was everywhere back then"


It certainly implies that we're way more relaxed than those uptight Puritans!

I do get the impression that culturally, we've sort of swapped places with America since the mid-twentieth century.


Jealous of you having Deep Space Nine on Netflix.



PS The analysis I heard was that Star Trek is actually Communist propaganda (I heard this from a proud yet non card-carrying Commie BTW).

They have no money, everything is free, people do whatever they want, and the Federation runs everything for the benefit of all.


"Jealous of you having Deep Space Nine on Netflix."

I have it on the Net - every episode


Riding wild thoats all day is no problem if you have buns of steel!

(warning: NSFW)


All humanoid species went extinct, as a side-effect of cats becoming transfeline.

The machine intelligences which recreated them worked from imperfect information (largely provided by the lower grades of transfelines.)


I'm sure someone else has said it, not to disagree with your points, but in ST they leave behind all kinds of technology, either for ethical reasons, or for quality of life.

Consider Picard's brother making wine, using up all that land to do something the replicator could do. Because he can, because for some reason it's better, for him and for everyone else.


Now that i think about it, Star Trek is shot through with new/alien games and cultural imports. By the later episodes of DS9, everyone on the station is drinking Rak'tag'no, which is Klingon Coffee. Jake introduces root beer which becomes popular among the aliens on the station. Everyone at some point takes a spin on the Dabbo tables, a Farengi game similar to roulette (and because it's a Farengi game, everyone knows it's rigged). Dax and Quark regularly meet up to play a farengi electronic board game. In the Next generation, a subplot revolves around Data playing a 3D holographic game similar to Go and of course there's the famous 3D chess on TOS. Riker and his father in one episode play some sort of combat game involving padded batons with sensors. On Voyager, Paris is a fan of 20th century science fiction and designs his own Flash Gordon-esque RPG. Romulan Ale is served at every diplomatic function. And if you think they won't be playing poker in the 24th century, I would remind you that card games have been popular for almost 1000 years, especially among the military, as it's a cheep and portable way to pass the time.

Yes - B5 was far superior in terms of political structures etc

We have, for instance, the military governor setting himself up as dictator and the theocrat with her personal paramilitary elite unit disbanding the ruling council.

"A religious zealot propelled by prophecy into a position of military and political power? Always a bad idea." --Neroon, Grey 17 is Missing


Apparently the most recent movie "The Muppets" is communist propaganda as well.


To be fair, DS9 does not equal Star Trek, DS9 is a subset of Star Trek, and you let the whole stand for the part when it suits you.

DS9 is specifically set in a frontier, and a frontier is a place where resources are stretched to the limit. Lack of social media could plausibly be explained by stipulating that computer resources are in critically short supply.

Also, DS9 is specifically a long novel about the development of spirituality. It is precisely its setting as a station on a frontier, and the resulting critical balance of technology and danger, which thrust Sisko into a unique form of solitude, from which grows his new spiritual personality. That is what makes it interesting and still-valid science fiction.

Suggesting that the story of Sisko implausibly lacks the constant distractions of social media is like saying the story of the Buddha implausibly lacks the distractions of being the son of a king. It misses the point entirely.


Sorry, but Facebook and Social Media is sooo 2000-zerosish! They will be washed away by the next big thing in the rooory 2020th. Facebook is so childish, I can't tell.

And: DS9 with our heros using Facebook would be sooooo boring. Who want to watch flamewars if he can watch Kira or Dax arguing with Worf?


Ok, desperately poor stats, not least because of the whole self-selecting population thing, but I (real name Ken O'Neill, no reasonably direct relation I think) don't use FriendFace, Twatter et al either.

The rest of that comment makes a depressing amount of sense too.


There's a couple of artists who have revisited John Carter's design with an eye to accuracy, i.e. a naked civil war soldier, where's the mutton chops? I like Fearless Fosdick's take but this one's good too.

(Nudity warning for male frontal on one of those!)

Three links, this comment will likely never see the light of day :)


Good point. You never see Wesley walking along with a miniPADD, typing in something and sending it to that pretty Ensign off duty in Ten Forward with a flick of the fingers across the screen, and watching her read the note and chuckle halfway across the room.

Janeway never asked someone to "send me the details in a status report. I'll read it later" and gesture with a miniPADD at Chakotay as she was getting into the Delta Flyer. Captain Archer never checked the time by the display clock in the corner of a PADD or used the light from a communicator screen as a torch to see his way in the dark.

And the only time they ever had a truly timewasting game, one that almost made Angry Birds seem like a fun thing to play by comparison, it was one of those insidious ones that melted everybody's brains and turned them into hypnotised slaves.

At least the modern reboot of Doctor Who had characters running around with mobile phones, but even then the Master turned that into a weapon against the population in one episode and Lumic used it as a network to convert people into Cybermen in another story ...

However, if you look back throughout science fiction of the last century, you'll be hard-pressed to find any kind of social media making its impact on the universes of their settings.

When ISN in Babylon 5 got overrun by the forces of the corrupt President Clark, the rebooted, sycophantic ISN smelled as bad as Faux News does today. The characters in B5 were as savvy about spreading the news as anyone in the late Nineties ever was - even though their method of disseminating information was more like Sneakernet, all the data stored in smuggled data crystals carried by hand instead of being held in some "cloud."

The closest anyone came to this kind of thinking were William Gibson and the cyberpunk school, back in the Eighties, and even then they got it wrong in some places.

But can we really blame them? Nothing like this has happened to Homo sapiens in all of the time we've been around. Take languages. Our computers can grok the rules for any language if you feed it enough samples, and Google Translate means that language lessons could ultimately become a thing of the past as well, so theoretically every character in a future SF story should know at least a smattering of a bunch of languages; it suddenly doesn't seem out of place when you have characters in DS9 suddenly spouting Klingon at each other, not because they have been to Kronos but because they picked it up from some app somewhere. And it doesn't seem out of place that characters in Firefly speak Chinese, Russian and whatever other languages made it out to the 'Verse from Earth-that-Was because they probably get it mixed in with English in the the 'waves they download off the Cortex.

At least Firefly had some tech savvy in its setting.

So, by looking at the lack of a portrayal of social media in ancient SF shows, we should not berate them for their lack of vision. We should, rather, realise that we've entered a phase for our species that none of those writers could ever have predicted: a phase whose end point nobody has yet had time to think of. So we don't really know where we're going with this modern, connected world of ours, nor can we really know.

We've left the setting and the trappings of Star Trek behind because /we/ are now the ones doing the "boldly going where no one has gone before."


Yeah, but given the source of the criticism, Ms Piggy's right to have responded that "that's almost as laughable as accusing Fox News of being, you know, news..."


Regarding Star Trek and Facebook...

I feel compelled to draw people's attention to the following:

Spock's Scanner


Question - is social media as ubiquitous and omnipresent as is promoted?

I have no stats, but I remember heated dialogues in the back of the bus why a couple didn't fit because he had lots of friends on Facebook, and she had only one. Or some girls talked about some guy's profile. Or things like that. Though that might be an artifact of the sampling process, since most of those might either be students or, err, what the Scottish call Neds.

And then there is a teacher friend who constantly waxes about the things other teachers write in their public profiles, e.g. 'likes good sex'. Though that might be a generational thing.

But then, I don't see why nobody should comment Picard showing off his obscure historical and cultural knowledge by posting a youtube flic. ;)


Question - is social media as ubiquitous and omnipresent as is promoted?

Yes. For the internet generation a significantly high proportion use social network sites on a regular (daily) basis and importantly as their main source of communication.

The best indications for me about the pervasiveness of social media are things like:
- Companies advertising their facebook page rather than their website
- Comment sections on most websites
- News presenters advertising their twitter profile to follow
- #Hashtags for news, politics, sports etc advertised by those shows
- QR codes everywhere
- Smartphone adoption heading towards maximum penetrance leading to social networking on the road e.g. foursquare, tweeting videos of public events (note how much news footage nowadays is taken from youtube/twitter footage from a mobile phone), checking in on facebook to identify nearby friends

I don't see this trend stopping any time soon. If anything I see it hitting the knee of the first part of a sigmoid curve of growth.


I'm assuming that you're getting hung up on the "does not try to predict the future" part of the quote you pasted, whereas the following sentence of my post is the more relevent: "a science fiction storyline is constrained by the limits of the available technology, a fantasy story line defines the tecnology it requires to progress from Plot-Point-A to Plot-Point-B; which category does Star Trek fit into?"

The future-predicting label was not an attempt to categorize all science fiction, it was an attempt to point out that Star Trek doesn't seem to me to be a serious attempt to present a realistic version of the future with any great accuracy, or how human's deal with the technology and change in that future -- and as such, just being set in the future does not automatically make it science fiction. It's drama (melodrama?), with special effects.


I think you're ignoring the point that Space Opera (which ST is) is generally considered to be a sub-genre of SF.


Here's a conundrum for you as a 20th century SF writer for a show in the 24/25th whatever century. Why does Sisko have an African American identity? Not why does he have certain physical characteristics we would interpret as African American, but why would that still be culturally relevant to him? And it is and not in a particularly casual way in some episodes.
400 years from now, Bashir won't have any cultural baggage to carry about his (presumed) ethnic/cultural background, but Sisko still will? Why shouldn't he feel even more profoundly disoriented and bewildered in the episode when he gets stuck in the 1950's or 1960's? Why is the racism/discrimination/hostilily so natural for him?

The short answer of course is that you could not write/televise the show in 20th century American and pretend Sisko was not "black." It would have been weird and seem unnatural to the current audience. But in terms of "realism," it is probably a failure in portraying what Sisko would probably be like.

(Bypassing the idea of whether people in the Federation should look more "blended" 400 years into our bold new future. There a lot of work arounds for that.)


> If they like mysteries why do they always have to deep mine the past?

I see Larp as the closest real world equivalent to 'the holodeck as entertainment'.

In my city, the most popular feature Larps (ie full weekend games, full immersion, full costume at all times) have been medieval/fantasy for something like seven of the last ten years. Saint Wolfgang's Vampire Hunters set in a pulp version of 14th ish Century Europe, Teonn set in a high fantasy pre-enlightenment kingdom, Mordavia set in a gritty pre-enlightenment fantasy settlement, Jade Empire set in a fantastically reimagined ancient Japan.

For variety, we have had games set in the 1920's (various Lovecraftean horror games such as Nightmare Circle), the 18th Century (Ravenhome), various Victorian steampunk games, a game set before the invention of language (Ogg) and period dramas of all kinds...

The only futuristic feature games that were as wildly successful were one set in the shattered hellscape of LA in 2020, one Star Wars based game, and one Firefly based game.

This distribution seems consistent with what we see in the episodes: Captain Proton in the 'futuristic' vein, and just about everything else is a fantasy, period drama, or combat scenario.


I tend to see the Space Opera / Science Fiction relationship more like overlapping regions in a Venn diagram.

Space opera can be science fiction, and science fiction can be space opera, but they can (more obviously in the case of science fiction) be themselves alone too.


In the end, isn't the realism of all tv shows (whatever genre) constrained by what is entertaining and the available budget for 45-or-so minutes or TV?

People are prepared (and perhaps more importantly, expect) to invest time and effort in reading a novel or even a short story, and getting to grips with new and unfamiliar concepts and settings. There are many people also willing to do this with a TV show, but if the trade off between the budgetary requirements and the expected audience aren't good enough: bye-bye tv show.

Star Trek (and any other SF-ish show, in particular) has to balance between what will net the widest possible audience and what can be put on screen for a reasonable amount of money. Make it too realistic (ie: strange) and the audience narrows to the point of zero-profitability. Expecting a rigorously developed, thought-out and realised 24th Century from Star Trek, probably isn't itself a realistic expectation.


Bypassing the idea of whether people in the Federation should look more "blended" 400 years into our bold new future. There a lot of work arounds for that.

Actually if anything the opposite would happen in a federation setting. IIRC there are 150+ planets in the fed plus a spattering of stations. Each of them is going to suffer a founder effect:

Even though space travel unless there are huge levels of immigration planets are going to be quite ethnically diverse. This isn't because of any evolutionary aspect but if planet A was settled by 80% Asian east-Asia, 15% Asian Indian sub-continent and 5% other after a century of population growth it is going to be starkly different to planet B settled by 75% Black African, 10% Latin south america 5% Mediterranean and 5% white Euro/American/Australian


This is a terrific essay. I wonder what we can conclude about Voyager in contrast to TNG and DS9, in which the crew plays pool, has a weekly movie night, and the crew spends time building old cars and television sets for fun. There's an interesting nostalgia at work there, a fascination with Gothic romances in Janeway's case, old film serials in Paris'. They reenact Beowulf (Beowulf!) on the holodeck. I haven't seen Voyager in such a long time, I don't think I can pull together a truly coherent thought about it, but in many ways, I thought Voyager felt like a throwback to "simpler," or at least earlier times--Kirk's era, pioneer exploration. Almost everyone they encountered was a "strange new world" or a new lifeform or civilization. But on Voyager, the Starfleet crew were the aliens, the people who didn't belong...


I agree. The common criticism of rigorous, predictive science fiction is that it's "circuit board SF," that "spends too much time on the setting." Also "the characters don't make sense" and "need more development," especially if they don't follow current social norms. If you, instead, write modern characters in a marginally strange setting that contains mostly recognizable elements, you get praised for your "realism" and the "complexity of your worldbuilding."

A movie like The Social Network would have flopped hard in the 1950s, possibly even into the 1980s. Oddly, we're not screaming at Mark Zuckerberg for destroying our dreams of Moon colonies and flying cars, even though that would have been everyone's criticism, had the movie been produced as SF a few decades ago.

Most science fiction is produced for the people of its time. That gives it a fairly short shelf life. And so it goes. It's what artists have to do to make a living off their art.


"Put aside the fact that a scene of watching some dude go nuts on WoW would be very hard for the writers to work into the plotline of any 40min episode"

But the writers of TNG had no problem taking a week of, after shuffling together some script where the characters are stuck in a malfunctioning holodeck.


Agreed. And I don't necessarily mean it as a criticism -- entertaining and interesting stories can still be told within these bounds. I think it's just a case of adjusting expectations when applied to written SF versus televisual or cinematic SF -- and knowing that the latter is closer to "drama with special effects" than good science fiction.

(Doing my best to not sound like a SF-snob, and failing miserably!)


Oh, the SF/Fantasy distintion issue, so old its origins are shrouded in the mist of myths and legends, many a flame-war has been fought about, many a plonk file was filled, many a netizen turned sour and decided to get a life. How many NNTP servers must a newb walk down, before he is called a regular. The answer, my friend, is lost in all the spam, err, sorry, sometimes I get nostalgic.

Defining 'science-fiction' with 'fits the storyline to the available technology' is somewhat ambiguous, either it limits the genre to 'hard SF', or it just means that you have to define a technology and work it through, which would also work with any sufficiently advanced magic, though, well, as is said, any sufficiently advanced magic becomes indistinguishable from technology.

Using the second definition, but limiting technology to things that are remotely possible, somewhat akin to, but more relaxed than 'hard SF', makes lots of classical SF Fantasy, since any story that involves telepathy, FTL or like is likely Fantasy; that's even with a story that is a paramount of the mixture of wild speculation and rigerous application of known connections that is what SF could be and seldom is.

But then, 'changing technology according to plot' is a subset of 'changing circumstance according to plot', a device that is known as Deus ex machina. Where one might argue a DeM is a hallmark of bad literature, though then, lots of the classics are bad literature, even barring the cases where a DeM is used ironically...


"Another way to explain the lack of social media, and the Internet generally, in Trek is to say the copyright mafia dismantled the Internet to stop copyright infringement."

That would explain all of the 'subspace interference'; it's just the censoring software bogging down.


Fear not, I am aware of the long and inglorious tradition of arguing the definition of science fiction, and the passions it stirs in the breasts of many. At root the evidence suggests that it's an almost totally subjective definition, and getting any two people to agree that the same list of stories belongs int he category is unlikely at best.

Cat brought up the fantasy/science fiction distinction in one of her previous posts, and that's how I arrived at the definition I used here -- which I am aware results in the possible re-classification of some SF as fantasy and vice versa. The idea I was digging towards at the time was that good SF tries to start from the point of saying "here's what's possible within this world, how does it affect the story and characters", fanatasy on the other hand starts from the point of "here's the story I want to tell, what do I need to be possible to tell it" (neither is a better way to tell a story, they're just different approaches).

Deus ex Machina crops up when the story is in a corner with nowhere to go within the established rules of the world (whether fantasy or SF) and the writer introduces something completely unforeseen to get out of that corner. And yes there is a long long list of this in literature, tv and the movies -- to be honest I do think it's lazy story-telling in most cases, but very occasionally it works and the writer gets away with it ("Hey guys, why don't we just hop on an eagle and we can be there and back again by the weekend?").


Think about the medium. It's a TV show. People sending texts and reading things on the internet doesn't make for good theater - you need spoken dialogue to move a plot forward. Likewise with the time-wasting: There's only so much time to tell the story - you have to assume that leisure activities are taking place off-screen, not to be introduced unless they're relevant to the plot.


See Cat's comment @9 about the integration of text and social media into "Sherlock", the recent BBC mini-series that adapts Sherlock Holmes to a modern day setting -- it is brilliantly done there!


There was an episode of Ghost in the Shell that mainly took place in a chat room and it was interesting, but I can see it wearing rather thin as a weekly plot structure.


You're forgetting that Cisco is the last great baseball fan. Studying the history of baseball would have led him into a discussion of racism very, very quickly. It's just about impossible to imagine that he didn't study the Negro Leagues, Jackie Robinson, etc., He might even have run a simulation of racist ancient Amerika on the family holodeck.


Also, I don't think I said earlier, but the same technology started being used by soaps in a similar timeframe to allow characters to txt each other. Look, Neighbours is on at my wind-down/cook tea time, and fits the "fine to miss a minute whilst stirring something, seeing if the oven is hot etc" requirement.


This always seems like the great strength and great weakness of Star Trek -- most character back-story, and the Star Trek timeline itself, are sketched in quite broad strokes. As a fan you can devise endless plausible reasons for a plot point or a character's on screen behaviour, as a detractor it enables you to point at great cracks and gaps in logic and world-building.

It's a win-win for everyone!


Star Trek takes place in a small corner of the TV universe, where all matter responds to the inexorable tug of the force called money. New ideas mean new sets, some new actors, producers screaming about runaway budgets, viewers who tuned in to see more of what they saw last week who get pissed off if they don't, and advertisers who turn red in the face when frustrated viewers change channels. Almost every mystery in the TV universe can be explained by asking "how many eyeballs will that get me?"


On wasting time: this is a difference between real life and not just Star Trek but fiction (and video games) in general. Characters move according to (rational) plots, and wasting time isn't part of the reason the story is written and read. But this gap is useful as a motivator, at least for me: I often think "If I were in a movie right now, or someone was playing me as a video game character, would they be happy, or frustrated?" Imagine if your video game character suddenly sat and checked social network messages for 90 minutes despite your best efforts to move him or her. But that's what we're doing when we do that.


My take on Cat's post is that the issue isn't whether ST tried to accurately predict anything, but that it (in all of its incarnations) is looking backward at what was, rather than forward at what might be or even at what currently is. Their occasional attempts to be "relevant", especially in TOS, were extremely lame, in part, IMO, because they were viewing the present very strongly through the lens of the early 20th Century, or even the late 19th. One of the hallmarks of good SF (again, IMO) is that it starts from a good understanding of the present and the past in order to talk about the present in terms of "what if this were more important" or "If this goes on".


I kinda liked the direction that Cat hinted at: Trying to imagine why there might exist a future where social networking, blogging and so on have ceased to exist? Can we think of an event *that doesn't spell the end of the species* that would cause us to abandon wholesale the trend for ever greater inter-personal communication and networking?

(PS: I think the post-Singularity game-reserve idea is cheating!)


Can we think of an event *that doesn't spell the end of the species* that would cause us to abandon wholesale the trend for ever greater inter-personal communication and networking?

I have only two ideas: one is that social networking mutates into something far better but far different. Second is that there is one or more negative side effects of social networking that aren't apparent to us right now (or perhaps don't apply to our level of social networking) and thus see social networks phased out.

A scenario for the latter could be the advent of some sort of panopticon singularity* wherein Big Brother not only has 20th century style surveillance in the form of cameras and microphones but also AI that track all conversations, build up psychological profiles for all citizens and uses it to predict and suppress whatever is illegal. This could extend to the point where privacy is a big issue, especially if in the rise of this dystopia AI's trawling social networks were able to get key information about citizens such as who they associate with. A minor form of this could be that a police AI spends all day trawling social networking sites, identifying people through biometric profiling and either automatically sends out: fines/arrest warrants if it sees illegal behaviour got drunk ten years ago, threw up in a bush and got the pic uploaded to facebook? Slapped with a fine and ASBO, or dare to mention "occupy" or show aggressive criticism of the police/government and find yourself on a watch list. If a society managed to find itself out of an oppressive panopticon regime the cultural scarring might induce a severe privacy meme.


ST:TNG did occasionally attempt to anticipate the unknown -- for example, how to communicate with aliens whose language is based on cultural memes, not grammar/vocabulary:

"That's how you communicate, isn't it? By citing example... by metaphor! Uzani's army... with fists open..."

IMO, more interesting than Spielberg's light/music (Close Encounters) which is still at heart a word/grammar communication scheme so less complex.


How about WWIII was the direct result of social networking, blogging, stupid internet memes, etc.? By, uh,

bear with me here,

accellerating the trend towards increasing Balkanization, creating zealous, lock-stepped, brittle, narcissistic a-holes, possessed of thousands of meaningless empty "friend"ships, degenerating through a disturbing neotenization of FTF personal skills, disgusting soft-bodiedness, isolated psychopathy with no mentoring filters, utterly distressed by their physical isolation, yet too paranoid to venture out-of-doors, so that they could personally interact and socialize using million-year-old protocols involving an embodied physicality and real-world interfaces that work pretty darn well?

And Colonel Green includes them as well in the genocidal purge of "radiation damaged and other impure elements"? it would explain why Colonel Green is viewed as a villian only by future historians.

Not too many Comic Book guys on the crew deck. The ST characters do tend to frown on too much nerdiness. A lot more than just the "moderation in all things" philosophy.

Not to mention adult onset diabetes?


That depends entirely on your assessment of the Borg's intelligence/adaptability. Taking over a high-ranking member of Star Fleet didn't work, so they tried to insert another social wedge into the Federation. "The Borg Queen" is bullshit if you assume that she is really an individual with actual control of the species. On the other hand, if you assume that she is pretending to be individual while actually acting as a "front end interface" for the hive mind, then it gets interesting really fast. (If Star Trek were a Charlie Stross universe, she'd be Herman to Data's Rachel Mansour.)


Other issues notwithstanding, wouldn't watching a bunch of characters on a space station sitting at their desks tweeting or playing farmville be, uh, kind of boring?

There's a reason most trek series weren't just devoted to "games we can play on the holodeck" plots - they're just not interesting to watch (unless something goes spectacularly wrong, and even then...meh.)

Now imagine a plot in which Sisko puts the Dominion War on hold so he can track down who's anonymously posting unflattering pictures of him to HoloTwitter. It just doesn't make good storytelling, whether or not it's a fact of everyday life. We never had plots where O'Brien gets exasperated when he can't get good wifi signal in his dining room, either - and that probably happened too.

Watching a fictional character waste time makes you really feel like you're wasting your own.


There was one, count them, one slacker, Brocco--er, Barclay, and frankly, he had very little imagination in his holo-fantasies (it would take far more social eptness than he seems to have had to create a world where people are actually nice to him, sad to say).

And yet, I read very little SF where anybody really is a soap opera fan (probably because they're considered the lowest form of life). As a recovering Dynasty fan, and a current Gleek, I find this odd. There is no middle ground. As in the Million Open Door books by John Barnes, there are either the Important Actors or the Box People who must rescued from the evil, addictive holosuites. You hardly see anybody who comes home from work, spends half hour on Facebook, and then goes about their business--it's always all or nothing.

I suspect that one of the things that binds the Federation together culturally is popular memes. In fact, military people often lived in really standardized base quarters in foreign parts because they move so often. I suspect that sports forms the major part of the cultural bond for the current US military, but we never really see new cultural memes in ST, or indeed, in most SF. In Voyager, Janeway has her little Gothic novel going on (you know the master's wife lives up in the attic!), and then the shared world of Fairhaven and her holo-boytoy (which is very good solution for the captain not dipping into the crew, Kirk really needed a holosuite, and Picard seems to have a very nice secretary when he's Dixon Hill). But in DS9, we never see Sisko holo-dating--he's still faithful to his dead wife, or more practically, doesn't want Quark recording his little sessions and selling them.

But you never see much new culture out of the Federation, not really.


Kirk really needed a holosuite

If you excuse me, I have to get this mental earworm out of my head.

"The holodeck is really, really great (...) for..."


@215 : Props for using a known bit to Trek timeline to explain the aversion to social media, but I'm not sure that even that kind of cultural shock would drive us away from improved interpersonal communications and networking. We have such an urge as a species to communicate with others, that I think we would be drawn back to some flavour of social media, no matter what. Think about it like this: Did we give up air travel after World War II, because of the horror of air raids?

@213 : I can certainly imagine that social networking will mutate into something else -- but historical trends would seem to indicate that it will be something even more ubiquitous than what we have now.

Certainly the AI panopticon idea might fit the bill here. But, as you allude to, if we're imagining what is essentially a weakly god like AI that could enforce its edicts globally -- how do we defeat it, put the genie back in the bottle, and move on to our post social network world? I think we're more likely to find ourselves in the end game and carrying on as well behaved pets at best.


Certainly the AI panopticon idea might fit the bill here. But, as you allude to, if we're imagining what is essentially a weakly god like AI that could enforce its edicts globally -- how do we defeat it, put the genie back in the bottle, and move on to our post social network world? I think we're more likely to find ourselves in the end game and carrying on as well behaved pets at best.

Perhaps outside interference? Other countries become horrified at the technologically enforced dystopia and intervene. The racial scar from that could be huge to the point of stupidity (just think how many times you see someone from the US disparaging any form of social policy because it resembles "communism")


as regards the use of technology for wasting time: there is an episode of DS9 where one of the characters is found to be in violation of Klingon(?) law. The punishment is to endure 50(?) years in a Klingon virtual prison. The sentence is administered over a much shorter span of time, say 10 or 15 minutes, but the prisoner's perception of time is that of someone who just spent 50 years in a Klingon prison. apparently, the Klingons, at least, found a good way to waste time in virtual reality.

on a completely unrelated note: the reason the inhabitants of DS9 all appear to be "paladins of self-organization", etc. is because they are an elite sample of their race's population. all the disorganized, ADD suffering, idiot-brained, or otherwise inferior specimens are stuck at the bottom of the gravity wells that are their home planets.


That was not a Klingon episode. That was the episode "Hard Time," story by Lynn Baker and Dan Moran.

DKM has lots of complaints about how it turned out, but I mostly only had problems with the ending.


Well, speaking of WWII, one person managed to convince an entire nation that a certain ethnic group was responsible for all their misfortunes, and their removal would solve all societal ills. They went so far as to set up a pretty elaborate social machinery for their eradication.

So I don't see how it would be hard to get people to become nerd haters and all of their witchcraft.

Also, the idea that using only media that promotes face-to-face, gestural, postural, verbal and non-verbal cues to eliminate ambiguity would explain all the subspace Skype format.


Given the dates of the Marshall McLuhan books/quotes below, ST:O actually did have a creative launch pad re: possible new social media. Almost seems as though McLuhan was forecasting the Internet, Google, web-site/surfing monetization, potential influence of Facebook - belongers vs. outsiders, etc.

From: The Gutenberg Galaxy : The Making of Typographic Man (1962)

"The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village."

From: Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964)

"The medium is the message"

"We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us"

"Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don't really have any rights left. Leasing our eyes and ears and nerves to commercial interests is like handing over the common speech to a private corporation, or like giving the earth's atmosphere to a company as a monopoly. (p.73 of the 1966 Signet paperback edition)"


@221 : I don't think that the takeover of one country by such a panopticon would cause world wide revulsion for the enabling technology. Your own example of communism shows the flaw in this: sure, the US reviles anything of the slightest pinkish hue, but there are plenty of other countries that embraced it and continue to do so. Not only that, what would constrain such an Internet-enabled AI within the physical borders of a single country (see "Rule 34" for more on this).

@224 : Rising against the "nerds and their witchcraft" might have been a possible if far fetched idea when the Internet was the reserve of nerds and techies. Now, you might as well suggest that someone could foment a global pogrom against telephone users -- everyone and their granny now uses social media and the internet, it cannot be associated with a single easy to identify demographic or racial group. (I'm also suspicious that this line of discussion is sailing close to the wind in terms of Charlie's "hot button" topics)


"Hot button"...I don't follow. What -ism within the moderation policy is this approaching?

In any case, true, cell phones may be common, but with 7 plus billion people, most of whom earn less than $5 a day, I kind of doubt that everyone is plugged in?

But keep in mind, I'm presenting this within the context of the ST WWIII scenario, so we've just killed off 600 million people, and everyone is having a hard time surviving, let alone checking their email. So, yeah, you will have witchcraft trials against whomever you wish to demonize.

It's a great American tradition!


One thing the writer seems to be blissfully ignoring is the fact that Starfleet is a military outfit. Moreso in DS9 than in any other of the shows, except maybe TOS.

Do you really think Sisko would be putting up with Dax making Odo memes while on duty?

Wouldn't happen. She'd be reprimanded and told to get her shit together.

The reason we don't see them using social media is because they, like most people, don't fuck around with it while they're working.

It's not that hard to figure out really when you think about it.


In some ways, Starfleet is pretty odd. But it sort of fits with the military world that GR would have experienced. Certainly TOS, there were shifts later.

1: Officers only socialise with officers, NCOs with NCOs, and other ranks with other ranks. We only see officers.

2: There are limited roles for women. Communications (think switchboard operator), nurse, and admin. At the time a show was made, a military nurse was an officer, a college graduate with a direct commission. So were Doctors, but I'm not sure how much that had changed since WW2. Nursing training in civilian life has changed a lot.

3: The sergeants really run things.

There's a TOS handwave about everybody on the ship being at least officer grade, but that puts some very junior people on the bridge. They have to get experience somehow, but it feels off that if Ensign is the lowest rank, Chekov and Sulu are stuck at that grade for TOS, given what they do.

In the Sixties, a lot of technical jobs in the military were done by Warrant Officers.

I wonder if it is significant that Roddenberry died before DS9 aired.


The reason there are no 21st century classics in Star Trek is that Earth spent the first half of the 21st century in a mini dark age due to WW III and the second half rebuilding civilization. They had widespread nuclear war and social breakdown and as a result, the internet died. Go back and watch Star Trek: First Contact and tell me if you think any of the scared, bedraggled refugees hanging out in Montana give a shit about Facebook. Then the Vulcans land and everything changes.

Now, there probably was someone sitting in a cabin somewhere writing the great epic of novel about WW III. But do you think anyone cares to read it 300 years later? I mean, I found Red Badge of Courage damn near interminable in high school and that was about a war that only happened 150 years ago, written by a contemporary.

The thing about classics is there aren't many of them produced in any given era. Not ones that really last anyway. So maybe there is some great 21st century masterpiece of a novel that made it into the cannon, but no one watching Star Trek knows what it is because it hasn't been written yet and so doesn't have the cache of Shakespeare or Dickens. We know those will last.

Also, if you're going to reference a popular classic in a TV show, it needs to be instantly recognizable. If you have to stop and give a mini lecture on 21st century hyper-realism and explain why this book you're reading is the masterwork of that genre, you've just bored the audience. After all, they're watching TV. If they cared about books, they'd go read one.


'Bypassing the idea of whether people in the Federation should look more "blended" 400 years into our bold new future.'

I look pure Caucasian; but I almost certainly have some Central Asian ancestry. (One of my mother's cousins looks almost as Asian as his Korean-born wife.) And, like others whose ancestors came from around the Mediterranean, I have some Sub-Saharan African ancestry. Plus, of course, Neanderthal ancestry.

Conversely: a fair number of Central Asians have more Caucasian ancestry than their appearance would suggest -- thanks to the Silk Road.


Actually, something I just remembered - the collapse of civilization happened in the early 90s! So they didn't just lose the internet, they never really had it at all.


Well, if we are going to get realistic, nothing we would recognize as Human is going to be on 23rd Century starships from Earth. Egan is far closer in terms of probability. And if we screw things up so badly that doesn't happen, there won't be any starships either.


Have you not seen the BBC's new Sherlock? It does a brilliant job of representing social media in an intuitive, non-disruptive manner.


To be fair, in the original books, the vast majority of the surface of Barsoom is covered with "ochre moss". No sand.
If they go someplace cold, they do layer on the furs.


TV and movies are very limited in terms of expressing SF ideas, this has been pointed out several times in this thread, instead of berating ST for not predicting social media (which is a secondary effect and not very disruptive), I think it's more interesting to see how many ideas ST gets right (or steals from the right source): portable communication devices, portable diagnosis machines, electronic reading pads; not mentioning the ideas we're no where near to actualize but actively researching: quantum teleportation, wrap drive, matter replicators.

ST lacks predictive power? I don't think so.


Like I said, I completely, totally, absolutely stopped watching TV in 2005. And even then, I was turning the TV on to watch ST: Voyager and then shutting it off for the next six days. I've been web surfing for 40 hours each week for the last ten years or so. That leaves no time for watching TV.

I know ABOUT what's going on in TV land through the Web, and I sometimes see parts of TV series when they're pirated and they appear briefly on YouTube. This hasn't happened to Sherlock.


#214 - IME Darmok is one of the most divisive episodes of ST (any series). There are people like you and I tho think it's one of the high spots as being a rare case of ST committing actual Science Fiction, and others like my Sis who think it's utter nonsense.


@227 : Apologies, the "hot buttons" thing was not meant as any kind of jibe, I've just noticed before that brining Nazism into a discussion can trigger the moderator finger-of-doom (Charlie has his reasons for being touchy about it). But yes, I'll give you that in the context of the Star Trek post-apocalyptic era that pogroms against the nerds are possible, but even then I'm not certain it will leave a permanent scar. Star Trek sells itself as being about mans urge to discover and communicate -- unless there's still some enforced law against social media in the 23rd century (why would there be, the pogroms would have been a symptom of WWIII, not the cause) I would expect it to appear again.

@228 : I don't think what we're arguing is why isn't everyone nose-deep in Twitter and Facebook for 8 hours everyday, but why don't we see any social media use at all (ignoring that it would have been difficult to predict the farther back you go in the show). Plus, I'm not sure about the military in non-combat / critical scenarios, but the next time you're passing a cop car or see police out on the beat, take a quick look and see how many are using their *personal* phones.

@236 : I would agree that in some areas Star Trek makes a decent job of predicting technology, but what it doesn't do well is look at how that technology changes society and patterns of behaviour -- essentially the characters and most plots could be transposed to any era and any setting (post industrial revolution, at any rate) and the only thing that changes is the terms they use.


Ah... Nazis.
I hear that after WW2 some escaped to the dark side of the moon and will be returning in 2018.
Just a plug for the indie film "Iron Sky". I've been following the progress of the production for months and really looking forward to seeing it. Looks like a lot of fun:

and the official release trailer:

In case anyone is wondering, its a black comedy


Well, if we are going to get realistic, nothing we would recognize as Human is going to be on 23rd Century starships from Earth. Egan is far closer in terms of probability

I never read anything by Egan; what are you referring to?


> Therefore it's quite logical that the
> characters don't do anything
> frivolous as they're all perfect
> examples of New Soviet Starfleet Man

If you think that's bad... there are persistent rumors of a new show based on E.E. Smith's Lensman stories, to be produced my Michael Straczynski.

I was probably 12 years old when I first read the Lensman books, and I had problems with them even then. The Lensmen were some sort of super-Schutzstaffel; not just judge, jury, and executioner, but performing covert mind control, usurping the power of (their own) planetary governments, etc. But though the bad guys were doing the same thing, it was okay for the Lensmen to do it since they were the good guys. Even then, it was pretty hard to tell the difference.

The Lensman universe was an extension of the 1930s Gernsback world of the future, and would be easy to translate to TV. And since everything the Lensmen did was good, and everything the Boskonians did was evil, the stories would be easy to follow.

Not something I'd be likely to make time to watch, though...


> Star Trek in any of it's iterations
> is not Science Fiction, it does not
> try to predict the future and how we
> deal with it

All I ask is a bit of entertainment without having to strain willing suspension of disbelief too hard.

According to his book "The Making of Star Trek" (which addresses most of the "why didn't they..." comments earlier in the thread), the show was supposed to be a sort of space western. "Science fiction" in 1966 meant little pulp magazines with silly pictures on the covers, "Captain Video" or the latter seasons of "Lost In Space"; the very idea of something as serious as a "space western" was hard to get the network to accept. Westerns were serious business in the early/mid '60s; SF was for children and strange people.


Can I suggest thet they're "rattling good yarns" as long as you don't regard them as any sort of moral compass.

In any event, I'd suggest that the 2 specific Lensmen that you're at least mostly referencing indirectly should be regarded as undercover cops and/or spies and saboteurs depending on where the individual incident took place, and that Civilisation and Boskone were at war with each other.


Egans characters tend to spread through the universe by sending small amounts of fairy dust ahead to construct magic people builders, then just transmit their personalities.

Transmitting a personality in Egans universe is remarkably easy as most of the characters don't have one.


> Apparently the most recent movie "The
> Muppets" is communist propaganda as
> well.

Given that about half of the CPUSA were active FBI agents or paid FBI informers by the mid-1960s, it's hard to decide whether I would be more alarmed by the possibility it might Communist propaganda or that it might be FBI propaganda...


I think that social networking mirrors adolescent through adult psychological development both in terms of the rate and incidence of participation, the type of network used, for what purpose, and which participants are the leaders.

According to PEW research of online social networks, young adolescents have the highest incidence and rates of participation (number of messages sent/time spent). They interact almost exclusively with a very narrow age/interest peer group. Unfortunately this research doesn't describe group formation or how leadership/dominance might arise. Older social network users tend to fall into two broad categories - based on whether they participate mostly for professional or personal reasons.

A couple of professional social network related studies that I've read indicated that blogs/networks catering to professionals tend to have proportionally fewer active participants,and the heaviest/most active (visible on-site) engagements often resemble mentorships.

One of the oldest subgroups of social networks is the 'support group' usually for major illnesses, medical conditions, orphan diseases, etc. The published research for this area is sparse but generally indicates that a key benefit/reason for participation is that users/visitors feel that they need to expend less emotional/psychology energy when interacting with people who are like them, i.e., they don't have to constantly explain themselves. The next key benefit is that people who've been there are able to offer practical advice or shortcuts to finding trustworthy advice.

So, to get back to your question about whether social networks will go away -- I don't think so. Mostly because we - especially during adolescence - need to learn how to move away from home and form interpersonal relationships with strangers/non-family.

I expect that the dominant social network form will continue to shift with each new adolescent population - just like music, another developmental aspect that is also very age-specific and emotionally charged. (BTW, for marketing purposes, there are at least 4 distinct adolescent age subgroups or stages, and they don't really play all that well together.)

The mentorship/cause driven social networks will also probably continue for as long as there are specialized intellectual areas of interest or medical/psychological conditions.

I wonder whether kids still pass physical notes in class ... or has texting completely replaced this activity.


One reason for the lack of social networks might be that the world of Star Trek has lived through the great spam-epidemic of 2087, when spammers deployed an AI so clever it could defeat all the spam filters in the world. For several years, everyone was busy deleting junk messages, effectively bringing civilization to its knees, until people said, "We've had enough, this is NOT worth it!", and shut down everything even remotely resembling a social network or a mail relay.


If the ST universe had social networks they would have more easily discovered how to stop the BORG -- spam them to death. Probably cost a lot less than phasers and photon torpedos though would be pretty boring to watch.


There's one major point I disagree with:

The holodecks and holosuites are basically giant XBox 720s (360° vertically, 360° horizontally).

Playing some World War I biplane air battle in a holosuite is exactly the same as playing it on a 486 PC on DOS 5.0.

Bashir and O'Brien do it because it's fun. One is a doctor, the other an engineer. This has only minimal strategic learning value for them, especially when they are defending The Alamo.


Kyrlon, your spam tsunami proposal isn't all that unlikely; spam did drive me off of using email for a few years in the '90s. (Yeah, I was on the internet 20 years ago. Damn, things were different then.)


Sufficiently off-topic to call it such. I would say that we should be careful in calling the Federation Space Amish. The Amish are quite the clever hackers, and generally are more late adopters of technology rather than luddites. They wait to see if anyone develops cell-phone shaped tumors on the sides of their heads before they take up the tech. Or more likely, come up with a fun alternative.

I completely sympathize. As someone who flirts with Bronze Age living (minus the wormy and larval parasites), I still do not own a cellular phone or any of the other so-called necessities of modern living. I do own an iStone, which is quite effective within throwing range.

My understanding is Internet penetration (interesting choice of terms) amounts to around 28% of the world's population. The goal is 50% by 2020, and they will no doubt fulfill that, but I seriously doubt the number will move much beyond that. It's not that people don't want the stuff, I suspect it's more in line with my own objectives - which is, I get a whole lot more done in my life without all the distractions!

So, rather than call Starfleet Space Amish, I would use the term "rank amateurs", or maybe fresh-water navy.


"I never read anything by Egan; what are you referring to?"

Uploaded minds, genetically engineered cybernetically enhanced PostHumans... take your pick.


The ultimate space Western was of course Firefly.
I found it bizarre from a cultural POV, since I'm English.


I think on my worst day I got 7000 spam emails in the late 90s.
It's why I use gmail


> Props for using a known bit to Trek
> timeline to explain the aversion to
> social media

Another possibility: orders from StarFleet banning "social media" on ground of... let's see, operational security, deleterious effect on military conduct, wasting time on duty, because some old fogey with admiral's stripes doesn't like it...


Interesting stuff about the psychology of social networks. Is their much in the studies you've read that for the adolescent / adult split takes into account the fact that social networks are something that younger generations are growing up with rather than being introduced to later in life? Or do the studies encompass both online and offline social networking -- looking at them as different aspects of the same behaviour?


" ... for the adolescent / adult split takes into account the fact that social networks are something that younger generations are growing up with rather than being introduced to later in life?" ... Indirectly this is taken into account. A content analysis of what gets communicated via which medium to whom under what circumstances (work/personal -- formal/informal) shows some differences. The online/social network generation parallels the mobile phone generation vs. their parents who grew up with landlines: there's a lot of similarity in terms of overall usage, but some differences in sentiment like what's taken for granted because it's so obvious/always used vs. what's ignored because it's cumbersome/never used. There's also considerable difference in the size of the potential audience via these media, but I don't know what impact this has/will have.

"Or do the studies encompass both online and offline social networking -- looking at them as different aspects of the same behaviour?" - I'm unaware of any studies on this - but this doesn't mean such studies don't exist... BTW, longitudinal research would be the preferred way of seeing whether there's any long-term developmental impact. Cross-sectional studies even with matched random test-vs-control samples, etc. often miss important linkages which would be the primary underlying objective of this type of study.


Well the thing with Star Trek is, that it's, above all, really supposed to portray several elements that are supposed to be some sort of "utopian ideals". It was stated several times, e.g. by Picard, that everyone (on earth) is working towards the improvement of humanity and the individual self. So by doing "something else", they would kinda betray this ideal, that apparently most people are sharing. So in light of that, the enlightened person of this era would always prefer to read said books over hanging on facebook the next generation.

So I can say I don't really miss Facebook on Deep Space Nine. Would the show have been really better, if O'Brien and Bashir would have been "Facebook friends" instead of going to the holosuits together? I honestly doubt it.

I get it why it's weird to see a show that's meant to portray a future and then doesn't even feature stuff we have today (and I think that myself), but for whatever DS9 tried to be, it doesn't matter that much, because it was always more about bare, basic ideas than more concrete technical solutions. Actually Star Trek was never really good in revealing to us how their technical devices/gadgets were working, or how they were handled by their users. At the end of the day, all consoles were just blinking lights - devices that never stopped to be something abstract. If we really wanted, we could believe, that those pads HAD twitter run on them, because their displays were usually hidden from the camera angle the viewer could see.


Well, we never saw the everyday-shit of normal families inside the cultures of some federation-worlds, did we? All characters are connected to military, government , or highranking positions in other environments. Of course they would not waste time, because they would not be that important in their environment! I bet, with that kind of tech, there are several kinds of wasting time with no good like playing stupid games with people one does not know personally. Even more since you probably won't have to do much hard work to sustain a certain level of tech in your live inside the federation. But again: we don't know how the masses are living inside this universe...


I believe this line from your own article answers your question. "Nobody uses social media, and nobody wastes time."


The future of ST feels oldfashioned because the style and the writing of the series is very oldfashioned. As has been pointed out before, 70% of ST is people standing in the same room, talking to each other, just like in most conservative TV productions. The protagonists are still "heroes", and the values are deliberately traditional: Shakespeare, baseball, that's what "humans" are.

Antagonists like the founders or the Borg aren't evil because they're less isolated, but because they're less individual. And yes, that means that -- following your argument -- being a "baby hivemind" is a bad thing if it means to lose our individual thoughts and tastes to that hive.


If you have seen the BBC Sherlock movies, there is a very good example of how to incorporate text into a visual medium. The text actually drives the plot, delivers comical relief and at the same time puts the viewer in a very unique position of connection to the on screen character which could never have been achieved with the character explaining things.

On the Topic of DS9 and Star Trek, I actually think it is wonderful, the thought of a world of technology and at the same time the drive to reconnect to something like your food trough cooking it. And how can values like honor and honesty ever go out of fashion?
I agree, ST characters are often on a very high pedestal, even when they are weak or flawed. Often views or values are old-fashioned (again, not necessarily a bad thing).
The past Versions of Star Trek did a good job at portraying a world with different standards. Of course they fail to grasp the evolution of the internet and the social media, because it started past their time. A new series would need to connect with this at a whole new level. There are new standards now. DS9's portrayal of war would be much darker, maybe a bit BSG. Sides would not be as clear, there would be shades of gray everywhere. It begs the question what Roddenberry would do today.


The ultimate space Western was of course Firefly.
I found it bizarre from a cultural POV, since I'm English.

Sort of like how I feel when I've tried to watch UK based cop shows on BBC America. It's easy to get lost in the weeds of trying to figure out what's going on minute to minute and you forget what the plot is about. Basically unless you watch a lot of shows from another culture it can get hard to sort out which idioms you need to figure out and which ones you can ignore.

I suspect that baseball and US football based idioms make little sense to most of the world.


It begs the question what Roddenberry would do today.

While I really appreciate him creating the series and movies, I really got tired of how they seemed to use magic (gods) to resolve so many plot lines. This seemed to really tail off after he died.


All of a sudden I cannot help but remember a comic strip that was a parody of DS9, Sisko stood once again in this white light, that always was the place in which he spoke to the "prophets" and he asked "Why is this area nothing but an empty space?!?" and the prophets answered "The Sisko _obviously_ never heard of a production budget!" :D


After books came radio, that was great, but TV was really new and made an impact.
Everything that could be expressed, related to the masses was covered in all of John Waynes movies.
Values, core values, of human live in all aspects.
Ever since then they are retold again and again, only new, but truly new, when adjusted to new people, the young ones.


Dear Cat,
Your article is a perfect representation of the present to me. Perhaps you helped me articulate this day and age of social networking. It seems so apathetic and disconnected in spite of it's super connectivity. While we could all imagine video phones and to some extent the internet... I'm not sure any lay folk really saw the extent of what the net and social networking would become. I am not a tech hater and I think a lot of this apathy had been growing for all of human history (it's 2012 and we're still doing the exact same things as in 0012). Still, I feel like we're losing touch with something important that we had and may still have. That is all.


"After books came radio, that was great, but TV was really new and made an impact."

And the next step is games. That's one reason Hollywood is hurting and the games industry is now bigger than movies.


See "The Soul of Man under Socialism".

Anyway, maybe we should think about it this way: what we're seeing is Fulfilled People Who Never Engage in Alienated Labour Who Devote Themselves to the Higher Things. What we're seeing is a _translation_ meant to show us how that would be, and a translation that for many people seems to work, though not all...just as they're speaking English, and that is good enough for their primary audience and a lot of their secondary.

So maybe "Sisko reading Shakespeare" is _really_ "Sisko playing brain-mapped immersive games of the Best and Highest sort"---and "Bashir and O'Brien play darts" is "Bashir and O'Brien play darts", as there's no way of improving on that.


Of course the most compelling reason for the lack of social media and advanced technology in DS9, Voyager et al is the LACK of its existance in official Star Trek Canon - i.e. backstory. No point retreading it, even in Enterprise when the internet was prevalent if it didn't exist in the future (or past!). The reboot of the Star Trek franchise should enable them to shake free of tribbles and badly costumed klingons and chart a new course. Which is sort of cool, and sort of shame. No more short skirted yeomen fending off the advances of a deranged Kirk....;-) Sexual and racial politics will also be rewritten.

The other reason for not extrapolating current/contemporary trends is that it is, at its simplist, a morality play/utopian story. Television existed (obviously) in 1966 - but you didn't see the Enterprise' crew sitting down in the mess watching reruns of Gilligan's Island or contemporary The Young Klingon and the Restless Bolian....Roddenberry would have seen it as a passing trend/fad. Besides, it rots your brain and turns your eyes square. Why put it in a utopian view of the future?

I always thought the writers of star trek were trying to make any federation officer the perfect aficionado of John Stuart Mill's higher pleasures. Even when they have bars no one gets drunk but instead sips cocktails. Everyone is obsessed with classics of history (even aliens who read shakespear and perform opera)

Some form of "they're a better breed than we are" keeps getting riffed on here along with it's attendant implausibility.

But why not go whole hog and say that they really - literally - are a better breed than we are, cognitively speaking. So what looks like highbrow to us is just so much Jackie Gleason and the Honeymooners to them.

And why the apparently strange limitations of tech? That's easily retconned (quite plausible to me, really) by saying that some things are just much, much harder than they really look so that even three centuries on they're still a commercial impracticability. WRT "replicators", for example, Poul Anderson had this bit in "The Enemy Stars" where it was explained that while people could be disassembled, shot instantaneously across light-years of space, and finally reassembled at their destination,it was economically infeasible to replicate foodstuffs from a master template.

Finally, why does anyone think that social media will be anything but a temporary social fad? It doesn't really seem to have any use which couldn't be farmed out to something more sophisticated other than the obvious one - extracting personal data from the sheep. And we know all about how those STers of the future feel about their personal freedoms ;-)

Here's a conundrum for you as a 20th century SF writer for a show in the 24/25th whatever century. Why does Sisko have an African American identity? Not why does he have certain physical characteristics we would interpret as African American, but why would that still be culturally relevant to him?

I may have missed this in the comments, but heredity doesn't work that way. If you allow free breeding between populations who are at opposite ends of the spectrum wrt a given characteristic, say pure "white" to pure "black", the offspring don't regress to the mean.

A real life example for skin color would be India, where despite literally centuries of "interbreeding", the color range runs the full gamut from pale white to deep black.

Heteromeles or someone else better versed in the biological sciences than I am might be able to give a more concise explanation for this phenomenon than I could (even if I dallied over a post on the subject for an hour.)


But why not go whole hog and say that they really - literally - are a better breed than we are, cognitively speaking. So what looks like highbrow to us is just so much Jackie Gleason and the Honeymooners to them.

As a somewhat different take. If you meet many people who become higher officers on large surface ships or nuclear subs they are NOT Joe six pack. In most all cases they don't watch 5 hours of TV per day or spend 3 hours a day on Facebook. Ditto the folks who rise to run Chase Bank, IBM, Chevron, Krogers, or the governor of most states. So in some ways they are a realistic portrayal of people, who given our current understanding of the type, might be in those positions.

Where they tend to fall down is in portrayal of the lower ranks and "working stiffs". Assuming there will be many lower ranks in such a future. Alien, the movie, did have two crewmen who seemed the type to live on Facebook when not actively "on the job".


SoV: you might like to reread the part you quoted. It explicitly puts to one side the genetics.


I was reading up on the genetics of the fur patterns on cats, so I've an idea of how this works.

That's probably a better example: talking about the genetic basis of different colours of cats takes a lot of the potential racist heat out of the matter.


I was explicitly talking about cultural identity here in the part you quoted. So your comment does not really make sense to me. Why would heredity have anything to do with it?

Second, I presume you are actually commenting on an aside you did not quote, namely the "blended" phrase. And I explicitly said I was not going to bother with that because there would be too many reasons to explain why the populations did not do so.

This being the internet, of course, all of the comments have been explaining why people would not blend into one narrow range of types.


Sorry for not reading your comment first. If I had realized someone had pointed this out already, I would not have responded. Thanks.


SoV is usually pretty cogent. I suspect either they really intended to pounce on and reinforce a point but just introduced it so it appeared to be a counterpoint, or they suffered an E_NOCOFFEE failure.

(I'm under the impression that SoV is male, but lacking certainty I shall use the singular they.)


Seconded; in fact I'd say that most of the regulars are either coherent or having an OUT_OF_CAFFIENE error moment.


In an oddly appropriate piece of synchronicity, I'm about a quarter of the way through John Barnes' "Directive 51."

In Barnes novel, a worldwide terrorist attack is launched by... nobody in particular, just a loose association of people feeding each others' anger and resentment. Enough of them manage to cooperate enough to do something.

I'm not far enough along to see how Barnes will handle this, but it's interesting how nicely it dovetails with things like Charlie's Spy Game in "Halting State", or 4Chan, or even the otherwise-normal people who assure me something is true because they read about it on the internet.

Throw in something about rumor outstripping fact, the spread of memes, or dealing with other cultures that don't make a clean distinction between fiction and fact, and I could definitely see one reason for a lack of social media in the Federation. When you're sitting on a multicultural powder keg, it's not a good idea to start handing out boxes of matches for every wannabee prophet, mullah, or fuhrer to play with.

Going back to meetings and paper might be a small price to pay to avoid that kind of trouble.

In real, life, I view the claims of "social media" to be vastly overrated and mostly irrelevant, but it wouldn't be good to forget that while people could read and write before Gutenberg developed the printing press, the cheaply-printed handbills those presses cranked out destabilized all of Europe and set off a chain of wars, and centuries later cheap printing made the "newspaper" a force to be reckoned with - both Mussolini and Hitler owned newspapers outright, and Lenin, Stalin, and Churchill were all reporters at one time or another. "It must be true, I read it in the newspaper/heard it on the radio/saw it on TV/read it on a web site..." Somehow, I imagine there'll still be people like that in the 25th century.

I was explicitly talking about cultural identity here in the part you quoted. So your comment does not really make sense to me. Why would heredity have anything to do with it?

Second, I presume you are actually commenting on an aside you did not quote, namely the "blended" phrase. And I explicitly said I was not going to bother with that because there would be too many reasons to explain why the populations did not do so.

I've been running a bit of a sleep deficit lately, but surely I'm not that far off. My point is that what you say about disregarding genetics in determining cultural mores is wrong (in more than one sense; I should have been more clear.)

To take a bizarre yet familiar example, suppose that for reasons of genetics everyone is born with two arms . . . except for an individual who has three perfectly functioning arms. Contrast this with the same example where most everybody is born with two arms but that 0.1% of the population is born with three perfectly functioning arms. Now think about the case where someone with just two good arms finds themselves surrounded by mostly three-armers through sheer happenstance.

Finally, think about a population where people with one, three, or five good arms are just as numerous as those with zero, two, or four good arms.

Now, it's all very well to assume for the purposes of the story that all four societies are egalitarian. But - imho - they will not be the same type of egalitarianism, if you get my drift. And which type of egalitarianism society lives by will be very much determined by genetics.

I hope that this is clearer than my original post.


Actually, I am feeling pretty punchy right now. Through the same defect in temperament that unites a lot of us[1], for the last couple of weeks I've been working long hours and rather single-mindedly on what some might call one of those unknown unknowns that will be one of the great game-changers of the 21st century. Iow, too much (now too little) coffee and not enough sleep after coming down off a project :-)

[1]I'm not big on diagnoses like "autism spectrum disorder", but I'd wager that a fair proportion of Charlie's regulars have absolutely no problem with being monomaniacally focused on a single project for long, uninterrupted periods of time. And no, that's not an unreservedly good trait.


Very funny. That's actually a solution I came up with to the inevitable post-human AI problem. 99.999% of humans integrate with the supermind and all of the Sol system becomes computronium Acellerando-style. What to do with those who refuse, mostly on religious grounds? They reject uploading, want a nice planet to call their own. The supermind gives them a giant Rama-style starship/habitat since they refuse to even be digitized for the travel time. They're pointed to a star with an Earth-like world that could do with a little terraforming and sent on their way.

Because the supermind agreed to not impose their culture upon the bloody-minded refusniks, they're left to govern themselves inside the self-maintaining starship. It's a giant spin cylinder with an entire world on the inside and since the leaders write the history books, within a few generations the kids don't even know about old Earth. This is the only world they know. Technology inside reverts, rival factions war with each other, and it's generally a sorry state with superstition and mysticism. But the kicker is that the AI's put in charge of the ship are not supposed to interfere with how the culture operates BUT there's an out that anyone who has reached the age of majority can leave if they want. Do they stay and try to fix things in this ridiculous civilization in a bottle or allow themselves to be uploaded and sent back to the hive mind around Sol?


Alastair Reynolds's Conjoiners are largely cuddly sympathetic Borg. Though with some reconstruction; they're linked individuals with varying degrees of shared memory, not "OUR THOUGHTS ARE ONE". But an outsider visits them and sees blank-faced people wearing black in dull corridors; later he gets implants and sees the augmented reality version, as well as the emotional links bypassing facial expressions.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Cat Valente published on February 7, 2012 6:12 PM.

I had a blog entry for you, but I eated it was the previous entry in this blog.

Beer, Boston (and books) is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog