Future technology in the ‘Star Trek’ reboots. Part I: tethered and performative technology

2016-10-28T09:09:18Z (GMT) by Carl Wilson Garrath Wilson
If space is the “final frontier”, then the technology that facilitates this adventure is also one of the central mechanisms by which we can learn new things about ourselves and our society. As human beings, we are constantly developing, and exploration is one of the ways in which we can expect to know ourselves better, grow and evolve in directions hopefully of our own choosing, and exert ourselves outwardly towards boundaries and borders in an attempt to better understand and shape the societies and cultures within which we are situated. Likewise, with Captain Kirk’s (William Shatner) opening staccato from Star Trek: The Original Series (Roddenberry, 2007) - a mantra which is repeated across the Star Trek reboot films – the focus is also on exploring “new” horizons, as in “new worlds”, “new life”, and “new civilizations.” This interest in newness is a reflection of the USS Enterprise crew from the fictional future(s); the time at which the show and its various franchise permutations were created in the past; and ourselves, watching and considering Star Trek in the present. While all of our notions of what constitutes “new” may vary, this desire for expansive and novel discovery is a consistently integral part of the allure for those that have come together on the intrepid voyage, either as a fully-fledged bridge-crew member or as a disposable red-shirted viewer. “But aren’t the Star Trek reboots all about the ‘pew-pew’ laser explosions?” you may well ask. Although this is certainly a factor, especially in the reboots - Star Trek (Abrams, 2009), Star Trek Into Darkness (Abrams, 2013), and Star Trek Beyond (Lin, 2016) - where Hollywood action plays a significant box-office role, Science Fiction, the genre at the heart of Star Trek, has been defined as “a contemporary mode in which the techniques of extrapolation and speculation are utilized in a narrative form, to construct near-future, far-future, or fantastic worlds in which science, technology, and society intersect” (Thacker, 2001, p.156). So, the inherent deeper appeal of the “new” within the Star Trek reboots is not, we would suggest, necessarily derived from a single-minded surface focus on sexy new alien races or new technology purely for the sake of spectacle (although we’re quite fond of these things too), but to borrow once more from Kirk’s classic monologue, if space is the “final frontier”, then the technology that facilitates this investigative endeavour is also by extension one of the central mechanisms by which we can learn new things about ourselves and our modern society.