Trek Technologies vs. Traditional Storytelling

History has shown us that technologies change paradigms.  The development of nuclear weapons altered the nature of warfare just as the invention of gunpowder did centuries earlier.  There is no reason to think this pattern will not continue, yet the Star Trek franchise presents technological advances without the corresponding paradigms these advances would usher in, and frankly that pisses me off.  This is a show that is venerated by its fans when I think it falls far short of fulfilling the promises implicit in the genre of speculative fiction.  Specifically:

Transporters - Perhaps the most ubiquitous technology in the Trek universe, these devices allow anyone and anything to be moved anywhere and at any time.  Unlike with other fictional transporters, there is no need for a second device (i.e., one at the point of origin and one at the destination).  In fact, there appears to be no limitation to the use of a transporter other than occasional contrived issues with magnetic storms, etc.

In spite of these facts, Trek storylines inevitably feature scenarios that should have been rendered irrelevant in the paradigm shift that will follow the invention of transporters.  For example, one mainstay plot device is the taking of hostages.  Obvious solution: Transport the hostages away.  Even better: Transport the weapons away with the hostages.  And yet viewers are forced to sit through entire episodes about negotiations that could (and should) have been handled in two seconds by Scotty pushing a button.

Replicators - An obvious extension of transporter technology was that of replicators.  These devices could generate matter in any configuration and apparently of any make-up.  In fact, replicators were considered so commonplace in the Trek universe by the time of The Next Generation that they were routinely used for making Earl Grey tea.

Regardless, episodes inevitably feature the crew involving themselves in the transport of precious objects, everything from archeological artifacts to "rare" medicines.  No explanation is ever given how, in an age where even physical entities can be regarded as nothing more than information, anything could still be considered any more "rare" or "precious" than an mp3 on a file-sharing network.

Time Travel - While in comparison to the previous technologies, this remains a judiciously used plot device, it is nevertheless an apparently widely-available option for anyone piloting a starship... which is just about everyone we see in the Trek universe, including the characteristically moronic Ferengi.

Okay, so you can slingshot a Klingon ship around the sun to go back in time to save a couple of whales (4th movie), but when the Klingon homeworld is destroyed in a cataclysmic Chernobyl event (6th movie), you can't do the same?  Time travel reshapes the universe from start to finish beginning (if that word has any meaning) the moment the technology is developed.  Considering film is a medium that allows virtually limitless manipulation of time, properly exploiting time-travel would make for great storytelling in ways potentially even more inventive than Christopher Nolan's Memento, yet the average Trek episode doesn't aspire to anything more sophisticated than what H.G. Wells did a century earlier.  Talk about a lack of traveling through time.

Collectively, stories about the Star Trek universe are presently no more advanced than the technologies we're working with in the 21st century.  An entertainment franchise such as Trek that bills itself as speculative fiction should be thinking not just in terms of what technologies the future will hold, but also how differently the future will play out in the wake of those advances.  If the paradigms of traditional storytelling are going to be rendered irrelevant by the technologies dreamt up by the writers, then either their stories have to be as inventive as the technologies they employ, or they're going to put themselves out of a job.

Copyright 2007 Alexporter.
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