Beam Me Up To Moonbase Alpha, Scotty


Let me see if I got this straight. Way back in 1966, Star Trek blew our collective minds with several new notions (space travel, coldly logical people with pointed ears, teleporting and not blowing up planets with more-than-atomic-power), and made communicators that go brrrrrleeeep a must-have fashion accessory (fortunately the short pants didn't catch on).

A bit later on 1974, Space: 1999 one-upped them by gifting the personal communicator with a video screen and camera (plus a decent keypad and a garage-door opener). They also dressed a bit better, even if the shoes were ludicrous.

Subsequent series mostly did minor variations on the theme (and generally improved on uniforms), but hacking a handheld prop to have a video screen was no mean task until we got decent bluescreening and digital effects. Still, it's interesting to notice that, even when we had those techniques and could add simulated video screens to anything, personal communicators in Sci-Fi series became inobtrusive, voice-only devices (although apparently with excellent surround sound, since you could hear everything under any circumstances from vacuum to close quarters' battle).

So today, in this 3G age of ours, I have a pocketable gadget that lets me talk or message to anyone in the world - with still images or video, if we're both lucky - check my e-mail and run the odd application (maybe even including a garage door opener). I think we have this "personal communicator" thing licked by now, and way beyond anything ever imagined - only we take it for granted these days, and fail to appreciate just how much of an achievement this is.

Still, I'm sure it will get ever smaller and inobtrusive - right now the one I'm carrying can be easily tied to a short staff and used as a very satisfactory mace, but it's well into our technical ability to pack a 3G phone into something like a silver cigarrette case (it's just not very cost-effective yet) and adding an unobtrusive headset for those (many) times when you don't need video.

But I have this gut feeling that one day (if videotelephony catches on) I'll be calling up someone in Engineering and hearing the words "She can'a take anymore, Capt'n!" emanating from a distressed Scotty look-a-like (complete in red shirt).

After all, way back when I started using GSM regularly, one such call to Engineering early in the morning to inquire about a problem yielded the hilarious reply "There has been a disturbance in the Force", so I guess whatever Sci-Fi throws at us, mobile communications can beat in no time.

And yet, I still can't get off the planet.

Where did we go wrong, then?


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