Why Starfleet?


So, this is a slightly polished version of a rant I had to Marko and Foe about a week ago after a couple of glasses of wine in restaurant Motti.

It’s the 24th century.

Humans have left behind the earth, and their sense of shame in wearing Lycra to boldy go places. They have faster-than-lightspeed transport and communication technology. They’ve also developed immersive virtual realities of amazing sophistication and subtlety.

Some my question is: why go anywhere in spaceships?

Why not fire off sophisticated, autonomous drones that travel to every point of the cosmos at warp-speed; to survey and construct immersive, explorable Holodeck simulations of where they’ve got to and who they’ve met?

Why not stay at home in The Presidio and wander into a holosuite at your leisure to wrestle with a green lizard man – safe in the knowledge that no harm can come to you. Knowing you can wander at home at night to your family – and some great mexican food rather than some galactic-goop brewed up by an irritating stowaway?

Why have ‘authorised’, trained Starfleet officers at all – if the ‘mass-amateurisation of everything’ is starting right now – then where will it be in the 24th century?

Grid-distribute the experiences and associated tasks to the millions of CosmoBloggers or the equivalent telepresent hordes, a la Patrick Farley’s Spiders. Let First Contact be with kids, goat herds and losers rather than uptight French hornblowers, macho Iowans or drippy ex-quantum-leapers.

Why do these people have to construct giant spaceships with detachable saucer sections to pack their kids onto?

It’s just dumb!

And, sure Mr. TV-producer, it be harder to churn out the episodes without having to rely on Jefferies Tubes or reversing the tachyon-converter polarity nonsense – but you’d be able to tell better stories!

Our heroes would just go to incredibly strange places and do incredible strange things, and be heroes without weapons or science or tools of any kind!! I guess there would be a big downside in merchandizing, without nice big books of cut-away transporters and guns, but hey.

And don’t give me the answer I got back in the restaurant, that they need to fly places in spaceships “to be there”. They are there in any way their monkey brains can understand it!

These people have had 400 years to read Baudrillard!!!

  1. It’s quite simple. We’re curious beings. Do you ever go on holiday? Why not just get a DVD of something shot there, and sure a holodeck might give the a vague mask of the experience of it, but it’d never be the real thing.

    Life is no fun if there’s no risk. Sport is about the bruises as much as the vistory, and life, is about the pain as much as the pleasure.

    In short, exploring the galaxy would be pretty boring if there wasn’t a small bit of risk. And there’s nothing exciting about detached discovery.

  2. Janne said:

    “Is it worth it? Should we just pull back, forget the whole thing as a bad idea and take care of our own problems at home?”

    “No. We have to stay here and there’s a simple reason why. Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics and you’ll get ten different answers, but there’s one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on. Whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our Sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won’t just take us. It’ll take Marilyn Monroe and Lao-Tzu and Einstein and Morobuto and Buddy Holly and Aristophenes .. and all of this .. all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars.”

    — Mary Ann Cramer interviews Cmdr. Sinclair in Babylon 5:”Infection”

  3. Adrian Howard said:

    Would interacting online be anywhere near as fun if the lag was measured in hours? months? days?

  4. It’s not an experience if you can press a pause button.

    Actual experience as a pausable, erasable entertainment object = reality tv.

    Furthermore, I could have killed Baudrillard with one punch. So fuck him.

    — W

  5. Matt said:

    Ooookay. First, ignore now.

    A starting assumption or two. In the 24th century of the ST universe we travel and communicate faster-than-light.

    To deal with things like inertial damping calculations which take into account 500+ people on an object travelling at a double-figure % of c means some pretty serious computing power unimaginable to us 21st monkeys picking our noses at the bottom of the pre-vulcan enlightment j-curve.

    These computers (which resemble ziplock bags of hair gel) can safely be assumed to be able to handle the construction of a virtual reality able to fool the aforesaid monkeys, even future versions with 3 centuries of lycra-wear on us.

    And these VR’s can be assumed to have no-monkey-perceivable lag. Sufficently advanced technology.

    And Warren, while I don’t deny that you could deconstructed Baudrilliad REAL good – the one things these things won’t have is a pause button.

    The experience of exploration will have to be time-bound if it’s telepresence through a remote drone of some kind – unless handled by an AI or other summarising ‘ghost’ or distributed-user-interpretation whatnot.

    And why not?

    We don’t have a pause button on the phone or IM – we negotiate the pauses with the other parties, or we have someone take a shift (c.f. ‘The Spiders’) or we pick our toenails and zone out hearing ‘blah-blah-blah’ …potentially hilarious at 1st contact…

  6. We have a “pause button” on all those things, and the time when we negotiated those pauses is long gone. BRB. On hold for a second. It’s not a negotiation, it’s a blank statement. It’s part of what makes electronic dialogue so convenient — not just that we have the ability to instantly communicate with people all over the world, but that we can pause it to and take a piss. It is, in fact, what we expect from communications systems.

    And your idea still doesn’t address the fact that, however seamless the immersion, we still know we’re entering a simulation of an exploratory experience. That by definition makes us a viewer, not an explorer, whether or not we’re seeing it in realtime or not. It’s one-way. It’s two, three, four billion people running the realtime perfect immersive VR feed from one robot skateboard.

    And I could still take Baudrillard. And Derrida.

  7. tomp said:

    There is a delay with 24th century sub-space comms in Star Trek though (c.f. Voyager) so over long enough distances the simulation could be very laggy. Also what’s to stop some mischievous aliens intercepting our signals and sending false signals back to us so that we think everything is OK but really the Borg are on the edge of our solar system.

  8. Richiepoo said:

    You folks have too much time on your hands.

  9. Yeah, I’ve got to say, I don’t have enough hours in the day to consider the flaws of Star Trek technology and the possibility of devious Goth aliens fucking with our heads. In fact, if I had that many free hours for just thinking, I’d be some kind of Dictator by now.

  10. Tim said:

    I don’t know. Overpopulation? Or a desire to get rid of the uptight French hornblowers?

    Funny points, though, even if we have an easy target. Star Trek is romantic, retro sci-fi, and has more in common with “Master and Commander” than anything we see in our future. That said, as long as we’re mostly ape, we’ll probably want to go take a nice, satisfying, actual piss on a new planet.

  11. MacDara said:

    It’s the difference between going on a holiday, or doing what the Duc des Esseintes did, surely.

  12. As far as holodeck considerations. Let us avail ourselves to the thought that they may have had a second coming by then and in fact Jesus gave humans the knowledge of time travel. So here we are in 2003 discussing posibilities that may exist in the 24th. To obviate our present day responsibilities in response to what could happen is folly. Preturnaturaly speaking all this has already happened, so to continue the debate is a giant excercise in trying to hold onto a de ja vu feeling that is fleeting.

  13. JohnnyO said:

    You guys must be knocking the ladies dead with these conversations.

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