Saturday, February 9, 2008

Star Trek vs. The Jetsons

In a previous post I said the 1960s vision of a question-answering typewriter has come true with Google. Then I thought, look at the freakin' format of this blog, it's a display from Star Trek: The Next Generation, fer Roddenberry's sake.

A couple of the big items from Star Trek have come true. Mainly the cell phone. Wall-sized flat TVs that double as computer displays. Transporters on a one-particle level. Sliding doors are pretty common in supermarkets anyway. Hand phaser not, but truck-sized, repeatable laser weapons are in the bidding stage at the U.S. Defense Department. Not the tricorder exactly, but many phones contain a movie camera, day planner, calculator and GPS.

Everyone makes fun of 1950s visions of the future, the domed cities and flying cars. Sometimes the conclusion is drawn that we're uniformly very bad at predicting the future, or that the future is impossible to predict. But Star Trek proves that Gene Roddenberry's kind of prediction-- that if people need something enough and it's obvious enough, they'll work till they get it-- makes some sense.

The Star Trek communicator was simple and obvious. The domed city and the flying car, in contrast, seem to flout their strangeness. They extrapolated the most modernistic things around at the time, while the communicator extrapolated down the middle of the road.

The lesson obviously isn't that only plain things happen. Maybe plain things are safer bets, though.