On September 8, 1966, the first episode of Star Trek, titled "the Man Trap", aired on NBC. This program, way ahead of its time even then, inspired 5 spin-off series along with feature films and a ton of original novels which, while starting in the late 1960’s, continue to be written and distributed to this day. As I think of the various variants of the series, one thing that comes to mind is the technology which was a regular staple on starships, starbases and space stations throughout the United Federation of Planets. Some technologies still only exist in the world of fiction, particularly the transporter. While having access to one would greatly eliminate the time I spend commuting to and from work, I’m not certain I’d want my atoms dispersed at home and reassembled at my desk. I think Dr. McCoy was right to have such mistrust in those things. However, many forms of technology, originally shown on Trek, are now very real. From the first episode onward, Starfleet personnel had access to a device known as a personal access data display, or PADD for short. It was a flat computer which was, in the original series, operated with a stylus. Even in the early days of the Next Generation, we never dreamed we might own such devices, as our computers at that time were still running DOS. Now, I have two of them in my desk drawer at work, one of them being an iPad. If you’re curious, Memory Alpha, one of the online Star Trek encyclopedias, has a great article about the PADD and its various models we’ve seen on the various series.
The iPhone has aspects of the PADD in that it’s a flat touchscreen that allows me to access various types of information but it also includes another type of Trek technology, the communicator, allowing me to easily call someone even if they’re located on the other side of the planet.
Later series showed a room known as a holodeck, where you could turn an empty room into any location you desired, even allowing you to interact with holographic characters. Now, we have companies who are designing products which will allow you to enter a holographic world for activities such as playing games.
Science fiction has often written about various types of technologies which, though fictional at the time, became a reality in the future. In fact, the article I referenced earlier suggests that Star Trek may have been a factor in inspiring Steve Jobs to invent the iPhone.
In closing, I’ll share an amusing and true story regarding my own writing which illustrates this. I’ve written a lot of various short SF pieces over the years, none of them officially published. In one of them, I unknowingly came up with an idea for a product which didn’t exist then but is something we take for granted. In this story which I wrote about 16 years ago, one of the characters was a computer programmer. While I never included this reference in the actual piece, I toyed with the idea of having her wearing a computer on her wrist. In one brief scene, which had nothing to do with the main story, she gets annoyed when her computer, known as a Microsoft watch, stops working due to a crash. It was really meant as a joke, since Windows computers were certainly known for crashing on a fairly regular basis, requiring a restart. I thought it would be funny to have the same thing happening to this character, wearing a watch, powered by a Microsoft operating system. As I say, it was really meant to give the story some humor and I chose not to include it. I would have never guessed that we’d be able to wear computers on our wrist in 2016, including a product known as the Apple Watch. Well, the next time I think of a cool piece of tech that hasn’t been invented I’ll be sure to contact Apple or Microsoft and see to it that I get handsome royalty checks from my ideas. <grin>
Live long and prosper.
So, when you pick up your iPhone or iPad, consider that Gene Roddenberry was toying with these concepts in the mid 1960’s. Live long and prosper.