Personal Parables #10, #11 and #12

Warning: The following three are all from Star Trek. I’ve grouped them together because I’m aware that some folk have an aversion to said fictional TV series. Give it a try either way.

#10 Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home: The bit where Scotty talks into the mouse, then touch types on a QWERTY keyboard and uses a 300 year old computer UI (remember, he’s from 2286 and has traveled back to 1886).

A classic scene from the film. Another being the pivotal moment where Kirk confirms that they don’t use money in the 23rd century, pivotal in the sense that this scene cements the non-existance of money in the Start Trek universe. Also it’s a point that makes Trekonomics all the most interesting. 

I remember ‘the mouse’ bit more because I thought it was impressive that Scotty could touch type so well, considering I’d never seen him use a keyboard before (most UI’s on starships being either voice activated or simply Hitchhikers Guide-esque touch screen backlit gubbins). 

I think of it every time I use, or introduce others to, a new UI or device. The idea that it will be so long lasting that people in the future will know how it works, when in reality, could many people even remember how to programme a VCR, or set the alarm on their first mobile, or tune a radio, or send a telegram?

That ties into the fickle and fast nature of technological change, and in an exciting way, begs the question of what future UI might actually look and operate like, when they are clearly just a product of what the technology of the time can afford. Like, we all know how part of operating a smartphone is plugging it in every night, and that portable computers need to be tethered to a power-line also, and that if you want to watch movies on your tablet device that you might need to download them in advance. Would someone from a future where they have wireless and ever present power and internet access know to do those thing? Imagine the classes! UI History and Advanced Legacy Technology For Time Travellers.

The scene also ties into the cultural assumptions that smart people probably know everything and that in the future we’ll all be smarter. If only that were true and Moore’s Law applied to human intelligence. Alas, the linage of Genghis Khan, Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump prove that time alone doesn’t enhance intelligence. 

#11 Star Trek, TNG, Relics: The bit where Scotty tells Laforge not to give a accurate deadline estimates to Captain Picard, so that he’ll look more impressive when he get’s it done quicker.

This has the planning fallacy, Hofstadter’s Law and the maxim ‘under promise, over deliver’ written all over it. Plus a scattering of people being inspired to be diligent when the person in charge is stable and fair (Captain Kirk is a semi-misogynistic egotist, Picard is the future manifestation of Clement Attlee, John Maynard Keynes and Maya Angelou. Heck, he even looks like Attlee and has the intonation of Angelou). 

#12 Star Trek, TNG, The Best of Both Worlds: The bit where they have to change phaser frequencies because the Borg shields adapt and prevent them from being attacked. 

I can’t find video of this, but I think I remember it happening more than once. The analogy is of people adapt to methods that were previously successful in fooling or duping them, meaning the baddies here are actually the Federation and the good guys are the Borg! 

I suppose I think of it most from an advertising and marketing point of view. Techniques are developed to coerce consumers but they slowly become immune or less susceptible to them, meaning the frequency or method needs to be changed. Think, website banners, pop-ups ads, newsletter sign-up pop-ups, ad-blockers and ad-blocker detection messages, ‘skip this ad in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1’, video screen adshels on escalators, and the takeover of all of them at once for one campaign.  

Also in a less overt sense, it reminds me of the constant ‘levelling of the playing field’ as SME’s learn smaller scale tricks like having a website, then making it ‘SEO’d’, then using adwords, then studying their analytics, then getting on social media and so on. Each milestone over the years has proved beneficial for early adopters, but as soon as everyone learns the lesson, it becomes ineffective, or a least, so competitive that the effort involved in trying to win outweighs any benefit left to gain. 

In this sense I feel Instagram has hit saturation point in this way, with so many people buying followers that the metric of seeing a high follower number has become almost meaningless, or at least, more a sign of someone having bothered to buy followers. This too ties back to Personal Parables #3 and the futile feeling ongoing one-upmanship.

All which makes me wonder where the social media went in the Start Trek universe. Do we all give it up in 300-400 years time? Maybe that one’s a question for Riker Googling

Footnote. Turns out Patrick Stewart even played Attlee once!