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Old January 28 2014, 05:49 PM   #10
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Re: In-Universe Explanation for TOS Retro Tech

BMariner wrote: View Post
Has anybody bothered to formulate a plausible in-universe explanation for the crude analog technology in TOS-- specifically the panel and computer interfaces?

If we assume the Prime trek universe is, in fact, our universe, this seems like a tall order. It would require rationalizing a complete reversion of materials, interface, and culture from today's tech back to 60's tech in the 23rd Century. How and why would that happen? That's a larger philosophical question that-- while probably a stretch-- could be attributed to the fact that tech is increasingly driven not by function, but style. I suppose it's possible that, just like photography trends now, that design culture drove a stylistic reversion to knobs and switches.

Of course that doesn't explain why Spock must look into the viewfinder to read scientific data, or what that round, b&w kaleidoscopic screen tells him, or how the navigator gleans a detailed planetary analyses from the static, screenless console.

Fans like to play the duotronics card at this point, which I find lame. So you've transitioned to a totally different computing paradigm, fair enough. Why should that require a functional devolution? Why the dot matrix printers, tapes, various cartridges, and room-size computers?

It gets even worse (or better, depending on your POV) in the movies when each console is decked out with wheel-spoke Lite Brite panels. Eventually we transition back to touch interfaces and digital read-outs. By the way, I loved Voyager's nod to the knob and switch era with the Delta Flyer. Nicely handled there.

This brings up a separate question about production. Did the producers intend to make the interfaces as plausible as possible, based on their best guesses about futuristic technology and budget constraints? Did they expect the audience to "believe" the science officer could plausibly glean an atmospheric analysis from an array of 4 multicolored lights? Or did they take the more theatrical approach, purposely using simplistic interfaces and expecting the audience's imagination to fill in the gaps?

Don't get me wrong, I love the retro tech (RIP, Cage gooseneck viewers). I just think it would be fun to postulate on the reversion from an in-universe perspective.

There is really no good way to rationalize it so why bother. Personally, I've long been fascinated by vintage sci-fi use of computers. They were all aesthetics with no practicality. Remember these were all developed in a world where most people had never seen let alone used a real computer. Thus computers had lots of blinking lights and buttons but no readouts. It was not unusual to see someone standing in front of a wall of blinking lights and yelling out information as if the computer were actually telling them something. TOS had the distinction of occasionally having screens in place thus providing a means of actually conveying information.

As people became more familiar with computers hollywood get better at depicting how they are actually used. (Though in fairness Doctor Who still features the Doctor getting information from his sonic screwdriver without the benefit of any readouts).
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