May 29, 2013
Over the past two weeks, I, along with millions of other Trekkers, sat in a dark, air-conditioned theater and met once again the crew of the Enterprise, as I've done many times over the last few years over Netflix and on various hotel-room TVs. But the more I've watched, the more I've been I've been visited by a nagging feeling that the whole concept is even more escapist than even its sci-fi veneer would suggest. But what could possibly exceed warp speed in imagination? Aren't holodecks already the pinnacle of escapism?
It was during the latest movie that I was able to put my finger on it. Much of the film takes place circa 2259 AD on Earth, and something clicked as the villain John Harrison gallivanted from one action sequence to another through the streets of London and San Francisco: In Star Trek, our planet is full of sky-bound towers and gleaming architecture, but unlike the darker futures ofRobocop or Blade Runner, there are no slums. In the world envisioned by Gene Roddenberry, the poor are no longer with us.
A quarter millennium before Captain James T. Kirk, one of the persistent myths about technology is that it makes society more equal. In 2005, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman insisted on it in the title of his book, The World is Flat. Digital technologies -- from Netscape to mobile phones -- figured prominently in nine of his "ten forces that flattened the world." In a 2010 interview, social media pundit Clay Shirky said -- even as he attempted to distance himself from an earlier techno-utopianism -- that "I am an optimist about democratizing media." This year, in a keynote at the media and technology conference South by Southwest, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan proclaimed that "Technology can level the playing field instead of tilting it against low-income, minority and rural students."
Flattening, democratizing, leveling...these are words frequently associated with digital technologies -- but is that what they really do?
Read more at The Atlantic.
May 29, 2013