The Future Is Now

Late night feeding with my son.

I like to sneak in an episode of Trek now and then while he eats. I’m hoping he’ll pick up a taste for either the music or the Starship noises and someday dawn his own pair of Vulcan ears.

Until then, tonight’s episode was Star Trek: Voyager’s 11:59 and it got me thinking about how when I was younger, all I wanted to do was live on the USS Enterprise and my expectations about the future.

In this episode, Neelix is hoping to beat Tom at a little Earth history about historical monuments. Janeway’s ancestor had something to do with that period of Earth’s history and so the genealogy research begins – and it turns out Janeway’s ancestor wasn’t involved quite the way the Captain thought she was.

It’s actually one of my favorite episodes, despite the fact that for most of the episode, the wiz-bang technology is absent.

My first real appreciation for Trek was because of the technology (and what 6-year-old wouldn’t be impressed by the technology?). You could transport anywhere you wanted, you had computers that knew everything and could talk to you, you had warp drive to explore new worlds (although I remember when I was six a NASA/PBS documentary scaring the living crap out of me that ‘we all could live on the moon by the year 2010’ – I told my dad I didn’t want to go), and anyplace you couldn’t get to with a warp drive could be recreated down to the micron with the holodeck, complete with virtual inhabitants you could interact with.

Sounds kind of like today, short of the holodeck and warp drive, right? And Xbox One is getting kinda close to that first one.

I remember my first computer experiences; dad taught me how to navigate DOS and open up MathBlaster. I remember him playing Wolfenstein and giving me a turn – and finding that first hidden wall with the treasure inside. He and I liked playing video games together; even now we still jump on for some Call of Duty. Mom was never that much into computers, she did the real-world stuff (parks and rollerblading and walks to the diner down the street). It was a great combo.

Dad was younger when I was born than I am right now (both of my parents were). I can’t even imagine being that young and having my son and these responsibilities then, the level of pants-crap inducing panic that I’d have had.

Those extra years made a difference for me; prepped me a bit. I couldn’t have done a good job with a baby until I’d had a few needy bosses, I think.

When I was in high school, my dad bought me an IPAQ to take notes with – think iPhone but clunkier, no internet connection unless you connected an awkward 56KBPS PHONE MODEM dongle, stylus required to interact with the screen, and it ran Windows CE – which was sort of like Windows XP but everything was harder to use. I still have it today.

loved writing on that thing – it had a little fold-up keyboard which you could connect it to. I wrote bits of my first “book” on there. It could play audio books or music if you loaded them onto a memory card first.

Even though I was impressed, I wished for a device I could get access to any knowledge in the world on, watch live TV on or call my grandparents on, directly touch to select things without a stylus or keyboard. One that could talk to me and understand what I was telling it to do – one like the PADDs I saw on Star Trek.

Here I am tonight, watching Voyager on a wireless device the size of a book, streaming entertainment from THIN AIR on something that previously required connected electricity, connected cables, a magnetic medium reader, etc… and was about the same size and weight as carrying a fully grown person with you.

Tonight I could ask Siri to transcribe this blog post for me or use the touch interface I dreamed of using when I was 6 to type it in. I could video chat with anyone who wouldn’t mind being woken up right now. All on the same damn device.

And yet… even though we’re very nearly at the day-to-day level of technological sophistication that Star Trek promised in our computers (sans Transporters, Warp Drive, Replicators…) and insanely far away from the level of political and socio-cultural sophistication, there’s still this feeling of ennui? I guess.

Yes, I have the technology – and when I was younger that was my very Borg-like focus. That was the thing. I wanted to be part of Star Trek and live on the Enterprise so I could possess the amazing technology. Now I’ve got it – and I realized (just after graduating from college, landing my first job at HP and buying my first MacBook Pro instead of the “highly recommended” company laptop) the technology is not an end onto itself.

Technology has always played a central part in my life – and I’m grateful for that. I have the tools to do amazing things at my fingertips and I know how to use ’em.

What was missing from my younger, techno-centric viewpoint was the reason for having all that technology.

Sure, the wiz-bang wow-factor is a great draw, but the value, the substance of all this technology is what you put in to it, what you use it to create.

That’s a lesson I need to make sure my son understands before he turns 20.

In the meantime, I’m damn sure going to use this technology to better myself and the rest of humanity. To close the gap on that socio-cultural wonderland that is Trek. To explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go…

Time to start creating things!

(Photo Credit: Pixabay/FirmBee)

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