The basis for Adams’ argument was the sensible premise that the show did not take into account human nature, which he supported by listing various Star Trek technologies – from the Holodeck to the Vulcan Death Grip – that, if invented, would not be used for their intended purpose but for some selfish pursuit. Although the Adams’ objective was to entertain, I remember agreeing with Adams’ position when I read this book; the future would never be like Star Trek.
In retrospect, however, I think I may have missed the point. I say this because Star Trek was not just a showcase for technology, but a story of the power of collaborative discovery. Representing a society without any material wants, the highest ideal of the Star Trek crew was to seek out knowledge, despite the risks. We find ourselves in a similar position, but in our case it is the social web that is shrinking distance between communities and connecting ideas instead of a starship with warp drive. Other Star Trek practices we should emulate include:
- Narrating work: Enterprise crew members seem to spend much of their shifts describing what they are doing to the ship’s log;
- Inter-departmental collaboration: the Enterprise is consistently faced with complex problems and chaotic situations, the successful resolution of which requires the crew to develop emergent and novel practice together as a team, collaborating across functional lines;
- Social learning: I cannot remember a formal course aboard any Star Trek vessel, Starship Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, Starship Voyager et al. Instead the crew learns from interacting with each other in an environment – like the bridge of the Enterprise – that almost forces collaboration. I noted with interest that Steve Jobs designed the Pixar building to put staff in the same place at the same time throughout the day, all to create opportunities for serendipitous effects to be spawned by communication.
There a host of benefits of engaging on the social web for official purposes, described in detail in my blog post ‘Don’t Fear the Dragons’, but my contacts still report significant resistance to the use of social media and networks at the office. The good news is that there is growing acceptance of the social web, moving us in the direction. Let’s hope we get to the Star Trek future sooner than later.