Many of us are ancient enough to remember watching Star Trek the Next Generation, some of us are actually ancient enough to remember watching the original series when it was first aired, and the rest have probably seen at least one of the more recent permutations of the show or the recent movie.
One of the noticeable things about Star Trek, as sci-fi, is how quickly a lot of the technology depicted in it has dated. The Original series in particular has suffered from the tremendous advances in computing, with Kirk and co saddled with magnetic tape reels and painfully anachronistic looking consoles.
But I remember watching The Next Generation and looking with envy at all those touch screen tablets, and reconfiguring display screens, and those magic tricorders that seemingly could do anything.
But looking back now, how do those futuristic gadgets stack up against that smartphone in your pocket? Is there anything that any obnoxious kid with an iPhone can do that Data couldn’t? Well seemingly, yes:
1) Social media – Seemingly the Federation has evolved beyond the need to Tweet, or maybe those tricorders just aren’t capable of constant status updates. Maybe they just couldn’t get Twitter to keep working when the last ‘Fail Whale’ became extinct (as revealed in Star Trek IV).
2) Playing games safely – The only time I recall anyone ever playing a video game in The Next Generation was that time that Riker brought one back from holiday, and it took over the ship (they never learned, did they?). Modern smartphones have a significantly better track record of allowing you to play games without, for example, Angry Birds materialising to destroy your house.
3) Talking to you – OK, in star trek there was that computer voice, primarily because it was somehow vital that Majel Barret Rodenberry had something to do. But it was all mediated by the ship, working through the comm badges. Now, granted, Siri requires a constant connection as well, but we are talking about the tricorders here, and they always stayed quiet.
4) Allowing you to talk to others – Again, the crew of the enterprise had communicators and com badges that allowed them to talk to each other, but they were contained in separate bits of kit. Although, it’s possible all those weird beepings and fiddling with controls is actually them texting each other.
5) Location tracking – Some episodes of Star Trek would have gone so much quicker if Kirk could have turned on that security tracking app.
6) Reliability – Even Orange has never tried to give me excuses about bad reception because ‘the signal is being blocked by dilithium deposits’
7) Search – You never see Picard Google anything. They don’t even resort to Safari. Being able to do some kind of search on ‘Big scary monster’, ‘eats salt’ and ‘invulnerable to phasers’ or ‘Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra?’. Would have been a lifesaver for so many redshirts.
8) Streaming video – Those tricorders had tiny little screens that only seemed to display various types of graphs – if Riker had a smart phone, he’d have been able to while away all those boring hours locked in alien cells by watching the latest ‘Ocean’s 47: this bank heist seems strangely unfulfilling now that we have evolved beyond money’.
9) Satellite Navigation – Possibly because this can get very boring when space travel is involved ‘keep straight… ahead…. for… the next…. 16 trillion miles… then turn… left…’
10) Music – No Spotify in space it seems, everyone just seems to listen to classical music and, apparently, the Beastie Boys (although technically that still counts as classical music I suppose).
So is there anything that Star Trek technology still has us beat at?
1) Faster than light – the really great thing about all those conversations that they have in Star Trek is that there is never any delay no matter how many millions of miles away the ship is. This is apparently because of subspace.
2) Spam filters – All those episodes and not one pop up ad? You’d have thought the Ferengi would be right on top of that, although I suppose the market for location based apps gets pretty weird, when you are going ‘where no man has gone before’.
3) Holograms – Alright, they go insane and try to kill people, but they look neat. Integrating a full holodeck into your smart phone is something that is obviously still beyond us, which is probably good, as you can expect the whole of human civilization to grind to a halt ten minutes after it happens.