Works of fiction appearing here are © 2011-2018 by Jack H. Tyler, and are not to be assumed to lie in the public domain.
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Friday, August 11, 2017

Vision in the Free Market

     " boldly go where no man has gone before."
                              ~ Gene Roddenberry

          Back in the early 1960s, a reasonably competent writer of westerns and police dramas developed and began to pitch the story of a starship and its crew visiting various planets and having adventures along the way.  This, of course, went on to become Star Trek, the queen mother of all franchises.  It ran from the fall of 1966 to the summer of 1969, and coincided almost perfectly with my time in the navy, time that I was sent to explore some of the most godawful hell-holes the planet has to offer, and all of them showing ten-year old TV, if they had TV at all.  I never saw a single episode in its first run.
          But I escaped, the show went into syndication, and it was a match made in heaven.  Star Trek was the vehicle that showed this budding author that all the space aliens didn't have to be bug-eyed monsters from Mars.  Some of them could be us!  I seized on that concept and wrote Star Trek stories for decades.  Oh, it wasn't fan fiction.  I created my own worlds, ships, and characters, but it was Star Trek, and there isn't a fan anywhere that wouldn't have recognized the inspiration.
          I've come a long way since those heady days when I was going to be the next Big Celebrity Author, and Roddenberry's influence is hardly visible in my steampunk sagas, but that show had a profound influence on me, and on society.  See, the other thing that captured my imagination was the gadgetry.  From tricorders to communicators to diagnostic hospital beds, not to mention those near-sentient talking computers, I wanted more than life itself to live in that world with all those things to make me smarter, healthier, and more effective.  I hate to admit it, but I was deeply jealous of nonexistent characters who lived in a fictional universe.
          Apparently, I wasn't alone.  Fast forward half a century to the here and now, and we live in a world with many of those things in existence around us.  Talking computers that can hold a conversation and carry out your orders, search engines that can deliver the accumulated knowledge of mankind to the comfort of your living room in a fraction of a second, and look at the fabulous tools your doctor has at his disposal.  Oh, and while we're at it, consider those hand-held computers we still nostalgically call "phones."  Would all of those things have come to pass without Star Trek?  Probably, but would they have come in our lifetimes?  That's harder to say, but Roddenberry put them on a screen in every living room, and people took notice, smart people who set about making them reality.
          But here's the thing.  Now that much of this world exists around us, I'm not interested in participating.  My grandkids think I'm a hidebound old dinosaur.  So, maybe I am, but I have long suspected that it goes deeper than that, and I had the epiphany about it just this morning.  There are two factors.
          First is the price.  Long have these electronics been priced out of my reach, and as I type that sentence, I see the fallacy of it.  I've seen, hell, I've known people who live in slums, drive old jalopies that a bum wouldn't sleep in, can't afford to fix a broken window in their house, but they'll bust out these phones at the drop of a hat, and start watching videos and texting some cousin three countries away.  They've sacrificed some things to have what's important to them.  So have I; I've sacrificed the phone.  I have a phone that looks like one of those "smart phones," I think they call them.  I can text, talk, and take pictures.  That's more than I need, as I rarely take pictures with it, but the feature exists on the phone, so I have to count it.  My "plan" costs $8 per month.  I could turn this phone into a device I would actually need if I was a personal assistant to the president, but my monthly bill would go up to an amount that would finance a late-model used car; you can just imagine the daily needling I get from my provider urging me to upgrade to a plan that no functional human being can possibly live without.  Sorry, that's their opinion, not mine.
          And then there's the other thing.  When Captain Kirk opened his communicator in 1969's Turnabout Intruder, it worked exactly the same way it had in 1966's Mantrap.  Same with Spock's tricorder, McCoy's diagnostic beds, and Scotty's engines and transporters.  And that's my other reason for staying out of it:  Compatibility and stability.  There is never any of this bullshirt about "our network doesn't support your device."  This morning, it took me 45 minutes to do a three-minute job because of this.  I was posting a book promotion on my What To Read Next page.  The text went up fine, but I couldn't post the picture of the book cover; Blogger didn't like the source material.  Don't know why, it didn't even offer me any of the computer jargon that humans can't understand by way of explanation, it just wouldn't transfer.  After several reboots that failed to correct the problem, I finally solved it by moving the picture from page to page to page until I found one that Blogger recognized, and copied it by dragging-and-dropping.  I still don't know why, but I know how to fix it...  This time!
          So maybe stability is really a third separate issue.  Let's say for a moment that it's important to me to have the latest cutting-edge phone, laptop, tablet, modem, wifi, router, integrated talking television with satellite feed, a security system to watch my house while I'm away (like I could afford to go anywhere after I buy all this stuff!), and a dozen other things I don't even know about.  So I move into lesser digs in a crappy neighborhood, trade in my car for something rattier, and abandon the concept of nice clothes and decent food so I can go out and get those things.  Hardly seems worth doing, since I know that by the time I get them home and take them out of the box, they're going to be obsolete, and the very people that sold them to me are going to be offering 10c on the dollar if I trade up to the new latest and greatest.
          So, no thanks, Star Trek.  It's a beautiful world you've created, but I'll just stay firmly rooted in the stone age for now.  Maybe when I'm reincarnated a century in the future, this will all be worked out and stable, but as long as competition trumps compatibility, I'm out.  If anyone wants to discuss this, you can contact me the old fashioned way, text, Email, or right here in the comment section.  Have a great day, and enjoy your toys!


  1. Interesting take on this, Jack! I'm a STar Trek fan from way back, and still get a smile when I think of the first flip phones looking like tricorders on TOS, and Jean Luc Picard reading his classics on TNG from what looks like today's Kindle.

    I enjoy my smartphone for all it is worth, but I also have my day job where I use it for so many things, and am able to catch up with blog comments and other items wherever I am, without waiting until I'm home with my trusty laptop. I use it for looking up music, blogging, Scripture memory, a foreign language instructional app, email, staying connected with my kiddos, and more.

    That said, I do take issue with people having nothing for survival and yet somehow still having a phone. My husband and I both work for what we have, and when we've had less, we've cut down on the perks. If that were the case now, the phones would be the first to go. I've known many people who have even managed to keep up with blogging and social media exclusively through the use of library computers. Inconvenient, maybe, but doable for those who need their money elsewhere.

    I admire you for remaining mostly unplugged. It's not for me, but I don't think anyone is defective for not wanting to be connected all the time, either.

    1. Hello, Lynda, and welcome to the Hideout! Not trying to be (completely) judgmental here, and I'm glad that you weren't either. If you have a need for a device, by all means, have one, and enjoy it when it isn't making you more effective, but this has gotten so far out of hand... I've watched my two teenage granddaughters sit across from each other in the same room and text each other, never making a sound except when they would laugh. I once worked for a man who would visibly tremble when his phone was out of reach, and none of that is to mention people I've seen and sometimes known who have to choose which essential to put back on the store shelf because their phone doesn't leave them enough money to live on. Maybe this rant was more specifically about phones than I realized, but things seem to have gone far beyond the original intent, and just become another way to siphon money out of everyone's pockets.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by. Good to hear that I'm not completely crazy...

  2. My previous smartphone wasn't very, and I felt out of it. When the battery started failing again, Dear Husband replaced it with an older iPhone - and I'm suddenly empowered. We're still on Consumer Cellular, and I don't use much data since I don't get out very often, but I'm computer literate from way back, and it wasn't me - it was the phone.

    Handy for taking photos in awkward spots. And always with me - though mostly zipped into the pocket in my purse. For emergencies, you know?

    I've never been able to tolerate much Star Trek - as a real hard scientist I found the episodes simple-minded - but I've seen enough. I prefer Firefly.