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Old October 17 2013, 02:02 AM   #17
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Re: Are communicators and tricorders anachronistic now?

Who is to say that a TOS-era communicator isn't, in a sense, a 23rd-century talkie? Keep in mind that "non-smart" cell phones are still quite common, as are two-way radios. (Not everyone wants to spend big bucks to get an iPhone of Galaxy S that they have no use for; and there are still plenty of areas where no cell phone will work, regardless of cost, brand-name, feature set or color).

A Federation Starfleet-issue communicator isn't really the equivalent of a "smartphone" anyway. Cellular phones rely on cell towers and a terrestrial communication grid to operate. Communicators are built to work reliably far from home, on the frontier, where there are presumably no network towers to "call home".

Look at it this way: if smartphone technology were the answer, don't you think today's soldiers on the battlefield would simply trade in their radios for smartphones? Obviously they won't. That's because battlefield situations tend to be in places far removed from the comforts (and technological networks) of civilization.

The same could be said of communicators. They aren't phones. They're walkie-talkies, built to be easy-to-use, easy-to-maintain, and easy-to-repair/repurpose in the field. How many smartphones could be modified to emit sonic vibrations to cause a landslide? ("Friday's Child")

The TOS-era tricoder would be a tougher one to justify. It's easy to see a heavily-modified iPad Mini as a tricorder. (Presumably, the Starfleet-issue tricorder is more powerful than any modern mobile device, with the ability to scan and analyze various forms of matter and energy ("Obsession"), as well as to detect when a starship is missing from orbit. ("That Which Survives").

Actually, TOS really doesn't bother me that much, tricorders aside. TOS tended to rely on voice-recognition-techology, hooded viewers, blinking coded lights and sound effects rather heavily.

TNG built on this, but began making other assumptions that look rather odd. Picard's rather bulky desktop display is an example of what people thought computers should look like before laptops ever hit the mass market. And in "Contagion", there was a major plot point that the Enterprise-D's computer system was actually a mainframe. While mainframes have not completely faded away, that centralized model of computing has obviously been overtaken by networked microcomputers ("PCs"). Where would that lead in a few centuries? Who knows?

One great thing about TNG was the re-invention of the "communicator" as a badge with only a tap-and-voice-command interface. Nothing seen before or sense could beat that. (TNG's fold-up tricoder, on the other hand, was obviously their attempt at an iPad Mini!)

So both TOS and TNG had their triumphs and their foibles. You can point and laugh if you like, but JJ Trek doesn't seem to have done anything revolutionary to change that.

If you want to talk about re-imagining or re-invention, look at the TOS bridge or other control sets. Look at all those control panels with all those knobs and switchgear. Now imagine fewer buttons and more liberal use of iPad-like touchscreen surfaces like TNG. That would make sense. Most of the basic premise of TOS and TNG still looks great today. The "point and laugh at" needs for change might be significant, but may not be the items you suggest.
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