Saturday, May 16, 2009

Space. The Final Frontier.

This afternoon I meandered over to the local movie theatre and for two hours disappeared into the mesmerizing world of Star Trek. It felt good to be home!

Growing up I would race home from school to watch the latest adventures of James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock. I had my very own communicator, tricorder and phaser that shot little plastic space age disks. Saturday's, I would spend the day at the local library, reading about science and space and dreaming what it would be like to roam the galaxy in search of adventure. Although the childhood whimsy may have faded, it is not gone. To this day, my talking Jean-Luc Picard action figure that sits proudly on the shelf in my study.

Reaching back into the archives... I found a little treasure from my grad school days. The assignment was to make a 3 - 5 minute presentation on a topic .... any topic. The content wasn't important. - the goal was practice speaking in front of an audience, while not melting down with anxiety and hopefully managing to hold their attention and peak their interest in your topic. Good practice for the many many research presentations that lay ahead of us.

The rest of the class waxed poetic about data structures and algorithms ... but not I! My talk was on the Enigma of Star Trek.

The Enigma of Star Trek

Presented Nov 24, 1994

By Elizabeth Tudhope

CS690 Graduate Research Skill Seminar

University of Waterloo

To boldly go where no one has gone before ....

If you are like me, your heart beats a little faster when you hear these words. So I ask myself, what is it about Star Trek that turns otherwise intelligent and capable people, into to devoted followers?

After all it is only a T.V. show!

First off the majority of the time it is not just another show, it is an intelligent T.V. show. Now, intelligence and T.V. are not something we normally speak about in the same sentence. But then, it is not every show that questions the nature of time and space, discusses quantum physics and confronts the nature of humanity, all in the course of a hour show. Where else but on Star Trek would you see Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking engaged in a game of poker?

While entertaining us, Star Trek deals with the big questions and topical issues of our time. Issues such as vengeance, sexual preference, euthanasia and genetic engineering are explored without preaching. Star Trek is definitely much more than phasers, warp speeds, and techno babble.

Sure, not all episodes are worthy. There are the occasional playful romps through the garden of Eden. Never the less, most episodes confront head on big questions. Whether it is wrestling with what defines a living being, or the possibility that time is not linear, the result is the same. We more than entertained, we are challenged to think.

Much can be said about the seven seasons of TNG. The show has achieved huge critical ratings and success. Both creatively and economically it has had great influence. When doing a literary search, I found 628 references over the past two years in major American Newspapers, made to the fictional character Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

It seems that over the seasons, the crew of the Enterprise has some how become real. They have ceased to be the two dimensional beings we normally encounter on the T.V. screen. Indeed, they have become alive.

Captain Picard.

How could anyone so enchantingly complex be fictional? What other major T.V. character reads Homeric poems in the original greek, quotes passages from Shakespeare, plays Mozart Concertos, is an avid student of archeology, and commands a Star Ship, all while sipping on his cup of Earl Grey.

Picard is a 90's kind of guy. He always listens, he will always ask questions and hear opinions. I've read that Picard's command style has become lecture material in several institutions. Picard's bridge style is being taught as an ideal that should be aimed at for the proper use of authority. It emphasizes the need to be aware that an authority figure is a member of a broader team.

I wish some of my past supervisors had gone to the Picard School of Management.

Somehow the disillusionment of another day on the battlefield of work place politics, is eased as we watch Picard and the crew solve problems with a minimum of violence and a maximum of team effort. We are encouraged me to be faithful to these same ideals.

To boldly go where no one has gone before ....

Essentially, Star Trek is about a journey of exploration. Not just of space, but of humanity! It provides us with an opportunity to think about things in a different way. In the world of Star Trek humanity is an evolving species that keeps getting better and better. Civilization has overcome many of the societal ills of war, poverty and discrimination. The future is something to look forward to. The exploration of space, and the development of our quality of life go hand in hand. We are presented with a vision of tolerance and co-operation.

I am not purposing the answers to the universe can be found in Star Trek. After all it is only a T.V. show, not holy writings. But Star Trek is a modern day myth. It has stories to be told, perspectives to share, and ideas to ponder.

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