Fifty years ago, I became a fan of galaxy-traveling space technology wielded by an altruistic civilization. Star Trek seemed to define technology as idealistically and problem-free as Father Knows Best defined the American family; both had stories about the weaknesses that people possess resolved within a single episode. However, unless it was deliberate sabotage, technology always worked. Scotty always milked the dilithium crystals to eek more power. Technology like tri-corders and food processors rarely needed to be tweaked, banged, recharged, or be issued return-to-vendor tickets. In both shows, the fiction was total b.s. But I didn’t let that rain on my parade.
Having been a technical worker in a military organization, and later in several technical service and engineering firms, I know the sort of effort it takes to bring something from idea to working product and sustainable. However, I am still a fan of the fantastic sci-fi shows like Star Trek as well as the real wizardry of the Space Shuttle, the probe that went past Pluto or the ones now in interstellar space. The real wizardry is when a bureaucracy – which a large company is – can still produce something that sets the international standard. And just as I imagine that a “real” transporter or a “real” warp drive would probably have reduced first test objects to unrecognizable goo, corporate politics, bureaucracy, budget, schedule-limits and management missteps would have evaluated that and then spent twice as long at four times the cost of the original prototype, to then have the transporter redesigned with more rigorous, real-world and far less goo-like results.
Where Spock complains that he is tasked with building a complex device with “stone knives and bear skins”, it suggests that in his future, a lack of tools, materials or supply problems do not occur. However improbable that may be, a resourceful worker can work around conditions that hamper progress. That is where asking for forgiveness is often more expedient than asking for permission. And that is why, even in the future, where the Red-Shirt enlisted guy gets eaten by a monster, the senior officer gets the glory, the crew routinely drink, get drunk, fight, and at the point of certain death, can eek dilithium crystals to save a galaxy – or USS Enterprise – from certain destruction.