Living the Star Trek life

Just how futuristic is Star Trek, anyway? The new movie, like the earlier movies and TV series, is oddly anachronistic.

Peter Glaskowsky
Peter N. Glaskowsky is a computer architect in Silicon Valley and a technology analyst for the Envisioneering Group. He has designed chip- and board-level products in the defense and computer industries, managed design teams, and served as editor in chief of the industry newsletter "Microprocessor Report." He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. Disclosure.
Peter Glaskowsky
2 min read

I saw the new Star Trek movie in its limited release on May 7, and enjoyed it a lot (although I did think giving the Enterprise the new hull number NCC-90210 was a bit much).

Anyway, the movie includes scenes set in Iowa, which got me thinking about what life is like for the average person in the Federation of Planets. I think it probably isn't very different from life here on our Earth.

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Paramount Pictures

For example, we don't have warp drives, transporters, food replicators, or phasers, but I don't think these are part of the daily life of the average citizen of the Federation either.

In the new movie, I was struck by several scenes in which the technology of the mid-23rd century seemed to be markedly behind our own. I assume these anachronisms were considered essential for consistency with the various Star Trek television series, but I think this movie could have provided a good opportunity to retcon these awkward precedents and make Star Trek seem more futuristic to today's audiences.

But no. Today we have cellphones the size of Zippo lighters, whereas in 250 years, communicators-- even for intraship communication, as shown in the new movie-- will be larger, and somehow they will lose any kind of display screen.

Indeed, Lt. Uhura sometimes wears the trademark huge circular-finned earpiece from the original series, though most characters get to wear something much more like today's Bluetooth headsets.

In another scene in the movie, a courier delivers a message to a senior Starfleet officer by carrying to him-- likely over a significant distance-- a large electronic clipboard. We've had Short Message Service support on cellphones for over ten years! If you've seen the original Star Trek series, you've seen these clipboards-- Yeoman Rand used to bring them to Captain Kirk on the bridge.

These clipboards-- also known in the Star Trek universe as data slates, or most commonly, Personal Access Display Devices (PADDs)-- shrank over the years; by the 24th century, they were down to the size they are today.

The engineering areas of various Starfleet facilities and even the new Enterprise were even worse; some of those scenes could have been filmed in a 19th-century boiler room (or maybe brewery) with a new coat of paint.

I also noticed a very futuristic forklift truck in the movie, but it turns out that too (the exact product) is an early 21st-century product.

But generally, life in the Federation does seem to be much more relaxed than life on our Earth, and technology presumably plays a role in that, even if it's usually behind the scenes. I wouldn't mind living there.

Actually, there are the occasional planet-shattering alien attacks. I wouldn't like those. Maybe I'd be happier somewhere I can combine 21st-century technology with a mellow 23rd-century lifestyle, like Marin County.