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<nettime> Alan N. Shapiro: Star Trek Technologies-Technologies of Disappearance

From: Alan Shapiro <>

Out now: Alan Shapiro, Star Trek--Technologies of Disappearance

(Avinus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2004--in English)

Our society dreams of making Star Trek's technologies real. Scientists,
computer technologists and science fiction media fans strive to bring to

 the transporter with quantum entanglement
 interstellar space travel with faster-than-light speed 
 time travel with fabricated wormholes 
 the Holodeck as the Holy Grail of virtual reality
 universal communication with the Klingon Language
 cyborgs and androids with artificial intelligence
 contact with aliens as the future that must take place

But does Star Trek's worldview coincide with the unbridled high-tech
enthusiasm of recent years? Or is there a tension between the show's
originality and the Borg-like assimilation of its creativity by the Star
Trek industry? Focusing on the stories themselves, the author reveals the
basic principles behind Star Trek that contest the ideology of mainstream
technoscience, consumer culture, and liberal humanism promoted by Paramount

Bringing together the passion of a true fan and an intellectual reflection
on science, technology and media culture, Star Trek: Technologies of
Disappearance explains the real reasons for Star Treks global mass appeal
for the very first time. The encounter between thought and a popular
subject mutually transforms both, and brings about genuine movement in

Alan N. Shapiro was born in New York City and studied at MIT and Cornell
University. He has lived in Germany since 1991, and has fifteen years
professional experience as a software developer. He also taught sociology
at New York University.

* * * *

Table of Contents:


        The Menagerie [The Original Series 1]
        Shore Leave [The Original Series 1]
        [Enter the Holodeck]
        Ship in a Bottle [The Next Generation 6]

        A Taste of Armageddon [The Original Series 1]
        The Ultimate Computer [The Original Series 2]

        The Enemy Within [The Original Series 1]
        [How the Transporter "Really Works"]

        Arena [The Original Series 1]
        Darmok [The Next Generation 5]
        [The Klingon Language]                  
        Metamorphosis [The Original Series 2]

        The City on the Edge of Forever [The Original Series 1]
        [Ellison Challenges Roddenberry]
        All Our Yesterdays [The Original Series 3]
        Year of Hell [Voyager 4]

Chapter 6 WORMHOLE
        Emissary [Deep Space Nine 1]
        [The Physics of Wormholes]

        This Side of Paradise [The Original Series 1]
        [NASA's Cyborg]
        The Devil in the Dark [The Original Series 1]
        Amok Time [The Original Series 2]

        Datalore [The Next Generation 1]
        [Android Epistemology]
        The Measure of a Man [The Next Generation 2]
        The Offspring [The Next Generation 3]

        Scorpion [Voyager 3/4]
        The Raven [Voyager 4]
        Survival Instinct [Voyager 6]

Chapter 10 WARP SPEED
        Caretaker [Voyager 1]
        [The Physics of Warp Drive]

        First Contact [The Movie Series]

List of Illustrations

* * * *

Excerpted paragraphs from the Introduction:

Most scientists, academics, and journalists who write about Star Trek claim
to be fans and lovers of the various Starfleet Captains and their crews.
But their customary methodologies function to deny to Star Trek its true
originality as the creator of a reality-shaping "science fiction" that
formatively influences culture, ideas, technologies, and even "hard
sciences" like physics. Some book authors repeat the well-worn truism that
Star Trek is a great modern mythology. Others follow the paradigm of The
Science of Star Trek, substituting their own particular field of expertise
for the word "Science" in that formula. This is exactly the opposite of
clearing a path to the perception that Star Trek actively affects
technoscience and techno-culture. It holds Star Trek in the weaker position
of being "tested" against an established body of knowledge to see if it
"measures up" on a scale of feasibility or correctness. The possibility
that Star Trek is the lively initiator of a "new real" is thereby
eliminated in advance... 

There are two burning intellectual questions about Star Trek that pervade
the existing literature and also engage us here. Why is Star Trek so
popular? What are we to make of Star Trek's futuristic technologies? ... We
love Star Trek and we are technologists. We inhabit a technological
"lifeworld." If we are able to understand why we love Star Trek - to name
certain basic principles, artistic and ethical values, or a single
intricate thread within its "universe" that captures our adherence as "true
fans" - then it will become clear what our attitude towards Star Trek's
"imaginary" technologies should be... Star Trek's futuristic technologies
are our own twenty-first century technologies in development. When we have
comprehended exactly why we "believe in" Star Trek - what the moral,
aesthetic, philosophical, and techno-scientific grounding of our
partisanship really is - then we will know exactly which tenets to reapply
to our work as technologists, media practitioners, electronic artists, or
thinkers about technology...

Just as literary criticism deals with forms and rhetorical devices such as
irony, parody, and synecdoche, we speak of "technological tropes" such as
the accident of virtual reality, the genetic code, software instantiation,
or technologies of disappearance. The latter phrase has three separate
meanings for the current inquiry. First, the major Star Trek technologies,
as they are habitually envisioned, are technologies of disappearance in a
literal and striking way. In transporter beaming, I disappear here and
reappear there. In Holodeck virtual reality, I disappear from the physical
into the virtual realm. In warp speed, the spaceship disappears from normal
spacetime into the flash of faster-than-light speed. In time travel or
sudden spatial displacement, there is usually a passage through a wormhole,
portal, or "stargate..." 

The second meaning of the title phrase of this book is a negative,
"critical theory" sense. To write about "technologies of disappearance" is
also to engage in a critique of the mainstream ways in which hypermodern
technologies are conceived and designed. Human subjectivity and perception
disappear into the organ-substituting imaging apparatuses of television,
cinema, virtual reality, and real-time telecommunications. Classical time
and space disappear into the compression of audiovisual memory implants and
designer spacetimes. Human indivisibility disappears into cloning and
genetic sequencing systems. The modernist pledge of scientific objectivity
and the high valuation of "truth" disappear into incessant
techno-scientific pursuit of techno-culture's ends. Our consideration of
the theoretical physics of the transporter, warp drive, time travel, and
parallel universes will show that even "hard science" is to an augmenting
degree driven by the demands of hyperreal science fictional culture... 

Yet the term "technologies of disappearance" has a third, more hopeful and
affirmative, meaning for us. These technologies bring us into the proximity
of new opportunities for "symbolic exchange" and "duality within
uncertainty" that contest the prevailing order of endless signification and
one-way economic accumulation. This mode of seduction is not to be found in
reclaiming the modernist depths of "truth," but rather on the superficial
level of artifice, illusion, disappearance and reappearance. Such
possibilities of reversal must be summoned into being or teased out from
the standard transactions of the hypermodern condition. They are implicit
in the quantum physics discovery of subatomic "virtual" particles that
permanently pop into and out of existence. Disappearance is a strategy of
feeling, resistance, and transformation that turns aside the intended
primary uses of technologies and unpacks their alternative and creative
"secondary effects..."

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