"These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before." These are the words of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. There isn't a Trekkie out there who can't say these words verbatim from the heart. I am of course talking about Star Trek: The Next Generation, the best of all the Star Treks (I have watched my fair share of all of them, including Star Trek: The Original Series). It is in the opening credits that Picard says these words, and I can't think of a better way to describe the relationship between mankind and technology.
Back in the day when this show was on tv, late eighties/early nineties, watching Star Trek was my family's ritual. Every Saturday evening we sat in front of the television, ate homemade pizza, and watched Star Trek. It was definitely my favorite part of the week. It has been a great many years though since I have seen an episode of it - until just a few days ago. I was channel surfing at the top of the hour and happened upon the opening credits of Next Generation. I was hooked, reliving my glory days for the following hour. Now, a friend of mine, who was watching it with me and had never actually watched the show before, asked me - to my great horror - "What's so great about this show?" The answer lies in the show's spectacular portrayal of the relationship between humans and technology.
One of the chief goals of creating/manipulating/advancing technology is to create benefits for mankind. These benefits include everything under the sun - paint for pleasing aesthetics, cars for faster transportation, light bulbs for light, shoes for walking, computers for processing massive amounts of information, even robots for doing our work, to name just a few. In general, we look to technology for two reasons: for enjoyment and for help. We look to our televisions for entertainment, we look to our hammers to aid in construction, and we look to our computers for both enjoyment and help.
However, there is a major difference between creating technology for enjoyment and creating it for help. In regards to the former, technology is simply a perk in life, big or small. When taken away there might be some set back, but we quickly look to something else and we soon forget that we even had that previous technology. Technology is something we put on or take off of ourselves. On the other hand, technology as used for help is a crutch. We become so dependent on it that should it disappear we become crippled, not being able to do anything. A few years ago I remember the BlackBerry network stopped working for less than 24 hours. Watching the news that night I saw many BlackBerry users being interviewed and every single one of them felt like they were trapped on an island, like their world had blown up for a day. They had become so dependent on it that when it ceased to function, their own lives ceased to function - after one day no less! And this is a trend that can be seen in technology everywhere. With our technology we are able to see more and more so many things that can be done, and because of that we feel as though we need them. So we strive to do it, and when we do we find more things that we can do and therefore more things we need. It's a cyclical process, and the more and more the wheel turns, the greater our dependence upon technology becomes. If our nation was stripped of all of its technology and thrown into cave-man times we would go insane not knowing what to do because all of our weight was on technology's crutch.
But there is more to technology than its benefits for life. I believe the greatest reason for the advancement of technology, greater even than its life benefits, is simply for the advancement of technology itself, for the advancement of knowledge. Humans have an innate desire to know. We want to know things, and we want to know if we can know things which we currently do not know, you know? Star Trek shows what I hope technology will achieve someday, as imaginative as that sounds. But, in all reality, we continue to push technology for the very hope that it can go beyond our imagination. Star Trek is the representation of mastery over everything physical, such as material science, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, optics, 3D imaging, lasers, robotics, computers, even quantum physics and mechanics! Data is even a fully functional android, programmed with certain laws so as to not harm humans and the like. Technology, though quite possibly more advanced than the humans themselves, is under complete control of the humans. And the whole premise of the show is the goal of modern technology, "To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before." NASA is a massive industry whose primary purpose is to explore the galaxy and look for signs of life. And through NASA has much of our most ground-breaking technologies developed. Even greater than NASA, though, is the over-arching realm of science, whose goal in essence is to go where no man has gone before, to know what no man has known before.