It’s the 24th century. Lieutenant Commander Data is walking through the corridors of the Starship Enterprise, on his way to meet with his Captain, Jean Luc Picard. This is not a formal meeting however. Picard is not acting in his capacity of Data’s commanding officer, but as a friend, confidant and advisor. In a rare opportunity for some down time for the two bridge officers, they are meeting in the ship’s social hub-10 Forward to discuss Data’s recent journey of self-discovery.
The doors to 10 Forward sense Data’s approach and hiss as they move apart to allow him to enter.
Across the room his optical sensors locate Captain Picard. Never able to escape duty, Picard is conversing with Commander Riker about some upcoming crew transfers. “Excuse me Mr Data” Riker says as he uses a reverse straddle manoeuvre to exit the chair he was occupying at Picard’s table. “Thank you commander” Data replies as he sits in Riker’s place.
Picard greets Data warmly, asks about his wellbeing and continues “so Mr Data. Last time we spoke you told me that you were exploring human history in an attempt to learn whether or not you would still strive to be more human in all eras of our history. How have you been getting on?”
“The most recent era I decided to explore was the year 2019 Captain. A most perplexing time. I was not prepared for the conflict it would cause within me about human activities during this era. Using the Holodeck, I was able to view aspects of human life at this time, and either observe or interact directly.”
“First, I decided to look at the human impact on other life on earth. Obviously unaware of the lessons learned by Captain Kirk’s Crew when they travelled back in time in an attempt to repopulate the humpback whale population of the 23rd century, there is still rampant devastation of other species native to planet earth”.
At this time, Picard thought he could see an emotional response in Data’s yellow eyes. More times than he could count, he has seen Data stand up for the rights of those who could not defend themselves, he had always shown a passion for ensuring all lives were treated with equal respect. If he did not know better, he would have thought Data was welling up at the images he was no doubt replaying in his positronic brain. But he did know better. “Data, tell me what you saw”.
Data replied “Captain, I first visited earth’s oceans, and saw hundreds of thousands of sharks having their fins cut off and having their bodies thrown back into the ocean, where they would drown slowly. I understand this was to fuel the human appetite for an expensive soup. I saw huge amounts of plastic waste floating in the oceans, which was consumed by what few numbers of sea life creatures remain. In an ironic twist, the creatures that weren’t killed by consumption of this waste were caught by human fisherman. Those fish were then consumed by mankind, who as a result also consumed the plastic elements trapped inside the bodies of the fish. Through this, mankind ultimately ended up eating their own waste.
I then went to see what was going on elsewhere. It seems that much of the human population of the time was unaware that elephants were still being slaughtered for their ivory, habitats for all kinds of species were being destroyed leaving them homeless and eventually unable to survive. Captain, if I had a heart, I believe it would have broken at the sight of such devastation. Despite my capacity to process information, I was unable to comprehend how humanity could allow this to happen at such a level”.
As he did for any meeting, whether it be negotiating a peace treaty between two warring planets, first contact with a new species or a social engagement, Picard had come prepared. He knew 2019 was the year Data was due to visit on the holodeck next and had done his homework. “I understand your confusion Mr Data. 2019 was certainly a perplexing time. While there were indeed minorities who knew the damage they were causing and the repercussions of their acts, the economics of the time were vastly different to how they are now. Vast sums of money were still involved in the human expansion, and often this was seen as the priority over other forms of life at the time. Additionally, living costs were high for the majority of the population. Many had to work long hours to make ends meet, limiting the time and energy they had to make themselves aware of such issues and being able to act upon it”.
Data’s eyes darted from side to side briefly, as they often did when he was processing new information. “I understand Captain. As Technology has been such an enabling force for good in our time, I decided to look at the impact of technology at the time. As with many other things, technology had conflicting impacts of the people of the time. Advancements were coming very quickly, mostly due to study of all of the crashed Ferengi craft, confiscated by governments and concealed from the public. Many households had compact computers, handheld communicators and devices not dissimilar to our PADDs. The ability to access the World Wide Web on these devices made them invaluable to the society of the time.”
“Indeed” Picard replied, “a time of access to unlimited amounts of information, and I believe it was during this time that social media was at its height of popularity”.
“Correct Captain” Data responded. “However even this benefit seemed to cause ironies within human behaviour. The holodeck took me to a human living unit, and within the main hub of the house, historically known as the living room, I saw a family of people. Two parents and two children. They were together, yet not interacting with each other. Their television was activated, but apart from occasional glances none of them were watching it. They were all looking at their mobile devices and seemed unable to detach themselves, it almost seemed that they were eternally anxious, as if they didn’t check their mobile devices regularly, they would be missing out on something all important.”
“Yes Data, very paradoxical” Picard said as he tugged on the waist band of his uniform. “Technology had advanced quickly and had connected people like never before. However, the irony is that society was not ready for this speed of development and was missing out on the fact that, as they always had been, the most important things were not in their mobile devices, but all around them. People interacted less with the loved ones who they shared living quarters with and became more adept at communicating through shortened versions of written word than by using their voices and body language. This would lead to problems in the work place, education and even at social events, as well as causing the epidemic of neck and eye problems that plagued the mid 2020’s.”
“Yes Captain. Additionally, I was able to gain access to one of the computers of the time. I accessed the World Wide Web that so many people of the time spent so much of their lives searching for information on, and I found that there were many inaccuracies. It seemed that at that time, anyone regardless of their qualifications or expertise could write anything on the internet and it was often taken as fact. People believed in the information on the internet so much that they lost their ability to determine the difference between accurate and inaccurate sources, leading to many anxieties, difficulties and health fads among the people of the time.”
Picard Paused as he took in Data’s last sentence. “Mr Data, it seems that humanity may have had so much trust in the technology that they valued that they were unaware of the things that they were missing out on, and perhaps unaware of the potential confusion and anxiety that having so much information available so quickly could cause. I’m sure you can see why we place such a high value on playing musical instruments, engaging in sports and physical activities on the holodeck and having a social hub such as 10 forward where people can meet and talk, despite the abundance of technology we have at our disposal”.
Data nodded and continued “Captain, although only a holodeck simulation, I was able to take Tricorder readings of the environment at the time. It seems that the combined effects of increased technology use, human expansion and destruction of natural environments and habitats had caused a significant increase in carbon emissions. This was having a severe effect on the environment which the humans of the time seemed mostly unaware that they depended on. Unfortunately, I was unable to continue my analysis of the time beyond this as my allotted holodeck time was up and ensign Packer needed the holodeck to prepare for his presentation on the type 4 comet we recently encountered. I left the Holodeck unable to decide if I would strive to be more human in the year 2019, it seems that humanity was very different then to the people I currently know and serve with”.
Picard smirked as he knew his preparation for this meeting had paid off. “Mr Data, the fact that you said those words shows that you are becoming more human every day. It shows that you care about the important things in life, such as the plants and creatures we share our environment with, no matter how big or small. It shows that you understand that we must have a respect for technology and use it with responsibility while also paying attention to those who matter most to us. Fortunately, I knew that you would find the year 2019 a conflicting time and would have difficulty connecting the dots between where humanity was then, and where it has arrived at now. I can tell you that the one constant in humanity’s time on planet earth has been change. Sometimes this change hasn’t happened soon enough, such as when atrocities are allowed to go on too long, and sometimes the change happens too fast for us to deal with. Indeed, the Ferengi still need to be held accountable for carelessly allowing their technology to fall into the hands of a society that perhaps wasn’t ready for it. However, in time, change continued to happen. A steady movement of people spreading awareness of the environmental issues of the time helped to make the people of the time more aware of what was going on to the world around them. People were able to make decisions as individuals which amounted to huge change as a society. Soon the plastics that you saw in the oceans for example were banned completely and new and, in some cases, old materials used to replace them. People developed better working practices, found renewable sources of energy and came together to develop a respect for technology and an understanding of its place and how it should be used. While 2019 was a time of great contradiction and confusion, it would ultimately lead to better things for humanity and we would eventually become the people that you strive to be more like today”.
Data briefly paused and Picard thought he saw a hint of ease behind his eyes and the beginnings of a smile forming in his face. Data was so enigmatic, Picard wondered if Data had in fact been endowed with emotions from the day he was created, but was programmed to believe he didn’t so that he would embark on a journey of self-discovery that would reflect back at the people he shared his time with.
“Thank you, Captain,” Data replied. No sooner as the words had left his mouth, a flash of light occurred as Q appeared, sat on the table that Data and Picard were sharing. “Mon Capitan……I have missed you so….you’re not going to believe what I have in store for you this time……………………………..”