Smithsonian Starlog: Trek Tech

My next Starlog question from Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology is:

“What Star Trek technology is on your list of must-haves?” Could the Star Trek universe exist without this type of technology? How would it be better (or worse) with (or without) this technology? Be sure to use evidence to support your argument.

So let’s talk about the replicator. It’s on my personal list of must-haves because it’s the pinnacle of the kind of circular, zero-waste economy that we can only aspire to today. I’m doing my best to switch out disposable goods like plastic bags and straws for reusable alternatives, but at the end of the day I’m still having a negative impact on the environment with my consumption of food and goods. Imagine if everything I put in my garbage, compost and recycling this week could’ve just been recycled back into the replicator!

I’m doing my best to switch out disposable goods like plastic bags and straws for reusable alternatives, but at the end of the day I’m still having a negative impact on the environment with my consumption of food and goods. Imagine if everything I put in my garbage, compost and recycling this week could’ve just been recycled back into the replicator!

Another reason I love the idea of the replicator, and think it’s essential to the Star Trek universe, is that it’s connected to Trek’s depiction of an egalitarian, post-capitalist society. In his book Trekonomics, Manu Saadia talks about the role of the replicator in making a greater range of goods available to all, fundamentally altering our society by removing scarcity.

“It’s hard to understand the way society works under scarcity unless and until you actually spend a bit of time understanding how a society might work without scarcity. And that’s exactly what we have in Star Trek,” Saadia told the Washington Post.

But Saadia acknowledges how Trek also shows this technology doesn’t necessarily lead to equality, pointing out that DS9 shows us the Ferengi charge for the use of their replicators.

The benefits of replicators in the Trek universe are pretty apparent, but what about the drawbacks? The biggest one seems to be a potential decline in agriculture and craftsmanship. It seems that skills like cooking and sewing become extremely rare in Starfleet circles, though pursuing them as hobbies or trades is not uncommon (e.g. Benjamin Sisko’s casual cooking and his father’s restaurant).

There are a few anti-technology characters scattered throughout the Trek universe, but none of them have really convinced me that the downsides of replicators would outweigh the benefits.

In “Family,” Robert Picard is very anti-technology and eschews replicators in his house.

“Life is already too convenient,” he says as his wife, Marie, serves him and his family the dinner she cooked. This makes me wonder whether another benefit of replicators is that it could finally spell the death knell for our still-gendered division of household labour.

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