Profiting from Prophecy
Somewhere between serendipity and synchronicity, the repetitive sci-fi mantra of contemporary culture is chanted as follows: the fantasies found in the works of yesterday’s science-fiction become the pioneering and fringe sciences of today become the everyday amenities of tomorrow. Somehow many of those technological innovisions and advancements found in the other-worlds or manifold futures frequently explored in science-fiction take a foothold into our reality and—whether out of desire or destiny—into our imaginations. Furthermore, in a culture fueled and forged by conspicuous consumption, obsolescence, and fad technologies, this sci-fi providence materializes more so out of consumer demand and the almighty dollar than simply out the often thankless scientific method and such lofty ideals as the betterment of humanity. Such is the nature of the technological beast… and such examples of this beast can be found in the communicator/combadge of the Star Trek franchise, the videophone from the film Blade Runner, and the interactive television snippets interspersed throughout the movie Starship Troopers.
The first of the three, the communication devices employed by Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets in its various chronological incarnations in the Star Trek universe (the communicator in the original series and the combadge in Star Trek: The Next Generation and thereafter) is a “communication device used by many species for person-to-person, person-to-ship, inter-ship communications. Communicators usually transmitted on subspace frequencies” (http://memory-alpha.org), and “served purposes beyond basic communication. For example, communicators were often used to allow transporter locks for beaming, thus acting as homing transponders” (http://memory-alpha.org). In the Star Trek timeline, by the 24th century—and by the time of Star Trek: The Next Generation—Starfleet has already introduced the combadge which is a compacted combination of the Starfleet insignia badge and the communicator. Moreover, the combadge expands upon the communicator’s capabilities by configuring it “to act as universal translators” (http://memory-alpha.org).
Although the ‘subspace frequencies’ utilized by the communicators/combadges in Star Trek are out of grasp within the foreseeable future—mostly, due to the fact that “what subspace is has never been revealed on screen” (http://memory-alpha.org)—the interpersonal communicative, homing transpondent, and universal translative capabilities of the device are very much a part of our contemporary culture. Our current cellphone devices are, for all intents and purposes, the handheld, person-to-person communicator devices of the series, which is “oft-cited as a Star Trek invention” (http://www.tecca.com), but it goes much deeper than that. The cellphone of today “was invented by a team led by a Motorola vice president named Martin Cooper. Cooper has said in interviews before that the Star Trek communicator was his inspiration for inventing and developing mobile phone technology…Star Trek gave us cell phones” (http://www.tecca.com).
There’s no denying that the modern cell phone has been assimilated into our contemporary culture to the point of it becoming an accepted norm and not a technological fad or curiosity, and its list benefits are manifold. One advantage is the ability to “stay connected with our loved ones in any part of the world and anytime. Gone are the days when we used to stand in queues to make an STD or ISD calls” (http://www.techacid.com). Another beneficial service the cell phone provides is SMS (Short Message Service), which permits users to converse during “situations in which a person can’t attend a call, so all you have to do is simply send an SMS and without talking your message is delivered” (http://www.techacid.com). Yet another benefit cell phones offer is during emergency situation: “The benefits of cell phones in emergency situations is undisputed. The Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 74 percent of Americans say they’ve used a cell phone in an emergency” (http://cmch.tv). Lastly, the modern cell phone works as a miniature PC/laptop, “equipped with windows and internet facilities. So you don’t need to wait for the newspaper! You can simply access the internet on your cell phone and get to know about the latest news, your e-mails, movie shows and a lot more” (http://www.techacid.com).
Additionally, the Star Trek communicator’s ability to be utilized as a homing device is comparable to a cellphone’s GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking capabilities: “Cellphones have had GPS locators in them since 2005…Manufacturers are always on the lookout for new ways for customers to use their cellphones and there seem to be few limits on the applications. Smartphones already make the old 'communicator' that once seemed so slick on Star Trek look like a kid's toy” (http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com). GPS tracking allows its users to “keep track of your children, post your location to Facebook or find a lost phone” (http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com). Likewise, the universal translative capabilities added to The Next Generation’s combadge device are currently being worked on as we speak and I type: “Google Conversation, so far only available to translate between Spanish and English, generated excited headlines speculating that a true universal translator -- an idea popularized by "Star Trek" -- might be just around the corner” (http://www.cnn.com); thereby, breaking down the language barrier.
The videophone in Blade Runner is yet another example of sci-fi fantasy materializing into everyday reality. Although “the concept of videotelephony was first popularized in the late 1880s” (http://en.wikipedia.org) and not the sole creation of the FX-wizards of the film, with webcams adorning PCs everywhere and the built-in cameras found in most laptops—not to mention, such pixelated platforms as Skype Blade Runner had its celluloid finger on the futuristic pulse. Considering that the film is set in the year 2019, Ridley Scott & co. weren’t too far off the mark. With that in mind, even though the laptop and PC have become the main source of such audiovisual, communicative endeavors and not the videophone, it still has a marketable niche in contemporary culture. For example, the ASUS AiGuru SV1 videophone is geared towards “the grandma/grandpa/computerphobic set” (http://www.engadget.com), which permits certain contingencies of society either confounded by or wary of the personal computer to have real-time access to the faces and voices of their loved ones separated by distances both great and small.
Likewise—and in the same vein as the Star Trek combadge’s universal translator—the videophone serves as a translator for the hearing-impaired “and makes the phone as useful a tool for the deaf as for the hearing” (http://www.cbsnews.com). The Sorenson VP100 is a video relay device “clear and free of the graininess and jerky playback...These are important factors when trying to follow signing and observe facial expressions” (http://www.cbsnews.com), and is part of a federally-funded program “aimed at providing equal telecommunications access to the deaf and hard of hearing. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, all long-distance telephone companies are required to pay a percentage of money collected from phone customers into a national telecommunications relay services fund” (http://www.cbsnews.com). Since video relaying occurs in real-time, it allows its subject “to introduce tone and expression into the conversation” (http://www.cbsnews.com), resulting in a congruity and harmony unfelt in other devices for the hearing impaired.
Finally, the interactive television of Starship Troopers is also no longer the telecommunication device of some distant future, but one of today: “When Starship Troopers debuted, the Internet was still in its early phases as a mass-consumer communications device…Today, however, broadband speeds allow for the interactive television experience through Web video as seen in the…movie. Actual Online video sites like youtube allow users to completely customize their viewing experience, watching only what they want and linking to related videos automatically” (http://www.tomsguide.com). Moreover, the instantaneousness and simultaneousness of interactive TV will enable “a geographically dispersed population [to] be reached immediately, irrespective of location… which allows information to be given to all remote areas at the same time, regardless of distance from the source” (http://www.ajol.info). Additionally, ITV relies “on the ability, particularly of satellite technology, to reach anywhere within its footprint, irrespective of distances or geographic obstacles” (http://www.ajol.info), making it infinitely more accessible than the passivity of regular television.
Surprisingly—or, perhaps, unsurprisingly—the science-fictitious advancements of yesterday have become the technological innovations of today. Other than the calendar year being incorrect, all three of these works turned out to be correct on some level and even inspired others to take the initiative to make science-fiction science-factual. This creative inspiration can be seen as a sort of future-past paradox, enticing some within our sociocultural construct to submit to the nostalgic state of action-reaction-creation; thereby, paying homage to youthful reminiscences of science-fiction through human ingenuity and its subsequent implementation. Cellphones, GPS tracking, universal translators, videophones, and interactive TV all have their detractors. Much is the case with just about every fresh gaggle of hi-tech gadgetry flooding department-store shelves and e-tailers with a sometimes daunting—other times, desperate—tenacity for consumption by tech whores and impulse shoppers alike. Of course, there will always be cons to progress; however, ultimately, the advantages in the above-mentioned cases outweigh the negatives. With the tactile implementation of these sci-fi fantasized technologies into mainstream consciousness, their subsequent realizations, and overall practical application in contemporary culture, it becomes quite apparent that certain percentages of society—unable and/or hesitant to participate and communicate with the greater communal whole—have now been enabled to make the transition from a 20th- to 21st-century mindset. This switch in states of mind would never have occurred if it weren’t fro science-fiction and its admirers who took yesteryear’s future-fantasy from fictitious conjecture to utilitarian advancement; thus, making the inaccessible accessible, the impaired empowered, and the immediacy of emergency to applicable exigency.