“Trek Class” is a course at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies titled “Star Trek and the Information Age.” The course examines episodes of Star Trek series as a method of introducing concepts related to technology, society and leadership in our world. This series of posts seeks to share some of the concepts discussed in Trek Class with the StarTrek.com community.
The same is true for the “future” tech of Star Trek. Replicators and tricorders make it possible for Starfleet personnel to tackle problems that might be impossible for us to solve in the Twenty-first Century. Like the laptops and smartphones of today, these technologies are standard issue for Federation knowledge workers. But these “work” devices are also integrated into our personal lives. We may use the same technology to send a business email while also keeping in contact with friends through social networking and text messaging.
Although the holodeck has proven useful to captains and crew, some are still concerned about its impact on productivity and question whether the technology should come with limits. Just as we may wonder whether the tweeting, Googling and Facebooking we now spend our time on might amount to a time-waster, or even an addiction, similar questions are raised about the holodeck.
Today, similar scenarios are taking place in corporations all over America. Many work environments have established rules against the use of technologies like Facebook or YouTube over productivity concerns. However, as a generation of new workers emerges with a different skill set and new ways of accessing information, many are finding it difficult to be effective while blocked from their go-to networks. We often hear from student interns that one of the most challenging aspects of their work experience was being “cut off from everything.”
With restricted access at work, many employees turn to their own mobile devices in times of need. Some companies have discovered that their employees routinely access social networks and other forbidden sites from their phones, both for personal and professional purposes. The same is true for Barclay, who circumvents Starfleet’s restrictions on the holodeck in a desperate attempt to apply the tool to his rescue efforts at Pathfinder.
This raises several questions that are as important now as in the Twenty-fourth Century – Can the same technologies that entertain us also help us do better work? Is it possible to balance productivity and recreation in the workplace? Are we really becoming addicted to technology?
While some researchers still question the concept of “Internet addiction”, Barclay’s struggles may seem very familiar to some of us. One of my students described having similar feelings and ultimately decided to suspend her Facebook account after realizing she was “addicted” to it. Facebook had become a source of distraction while at work and at home, she said. However, the same student told me that other social networks, such as Twitter and YouTube, had remained essential to her ability to find useful information. This example highlights the difficulty in finding balance as new technologies become integrated into our daily lives.
As we strive to find that balance, perhaps some clues can be found in the advice of Counselor Troi and others who seek to help Lt. Barclay. Although we can recognize the value in many of our technologies, their advantages are diminished if we focus only on the virtual. It may not be necessary to block access to our technology of choice – whether Facebook or the holodeck – as long as we remember that what we do in these virtual spaces should always be for the betterment of ourselves, our work and our relationships in the offline world. It was only after Barclay realized this that he was able to apply what he learned inside the holodeck to complete the real-world mission of Pathfinder.
Anthony Rotolo is a professor at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool), where he specializes in social media. You can follow along with Trek Class each Tuesday and Thursday at 3:30pm EST on Twitter by using the hashtag #TrekClass.