ebooks in star trekThe Beloved and I have a nightly Netflix ritual and lately, we have been working our way through the Star Trek canon. Deep Space Nine is his favourite of the Treks, so we started with that one. And it’s been so interesting to see how much of their predicted technology has actually come true!

One episode in particular caused me no end of amusement. It involved an alien race who attempts to study humans by impersonating characters it observes in their lives—Dr. Bashir’s romanticized version of his co-worker, Dax; Commander Sisko’s favourite baseball player, lifted from a ‘holosuite’ adventure; and Rumpelstiltskin, borrowed from an eBook that Chief O’Brien reads to his child in the episode’s teaser.

Yup, you heard me right—an eBook! And it looked almost exactly like the ones we read today, too. I remember reading a ‘behind the scenes’ on Star Trek props, and they mentioned that the smooth, flat-screen look of the whole thing was actually a budget choice. It was too expensive to make props with buttons and levers. And it also meant that in post-production, they could project whatever they wanted onto those blank slates…

It’s so interesting to me that what took ‘post-production’ effects in the 1990s is now a real, actual thing. We see O’Brien crouching by his daughter’s bed, a ‘Padd’ in his hand. If you squint, you can see tiny rows of text and pictures. And then he taps the side of the ‘Padd’, the page ‘turns’ and you see a different picture. As he reads the final page, he puts the ‘Padd’ aside, tucks his daughter in and leaves her bedroom. She comes out a minute later to say that ‘he’ is in her room, and when indigent parent O’Brien goes in to placate her, he finds to his surprise that Rumpelstiltskin is really there…

It was almost comical, in hindsight. I am sure that page turn, where the text and pictures really change, was a moderately fancy special effect in its day. And now you could do it for real and film it straight-up. There is another scene where the commander’s son Jake looks something up in the ‘educational database’ and then has it ‘replicated.’ Replace those words with ‘Wikipedia’ and ‘3D Printer’ and it doesn’t sound so sci-fi anymore…

I have my quibbles with how Mr. Abrams handled the Star Trek reboot, but I can see now why they had to do it. If we here in the 21st century already have this stuff, it is dated indeed to think that in the hypothetical 24th century, we would have equal or lesser stuff. For all the ‘whizz-bang’ factor of the ‘animated’ eBooks, we still have people showing up in person to hand in a PADD with their reports and so forth. They needed to make a new future which takes the things which have come true, and projects them into a new future that can take them further.

As for the Beloved, he is still waiting for the scene where a character is interrupted by an email alert, or where we pan in on Sisko using his ‘Padd’ to play Candy Crush while he waits for the latest report from the planet. As for myself, I am finding that on re-watch, this show reaches me in different ways. The characters seem different to me. I relate more to the cynical Odo than I used to, and the once girl-power-esque  Major Kira annoys the bleep out of me this time around. But I like that they have devoted screen time to the establishment of the station’s school, that Sisko’s scholarly son spends an entire episode teaching his friend to read, and that parents like Chief O’Brien are shown still, in the future, tucking their children to bed with a story. Plus ça change, you know?

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"I’m a journalist, a teacher and an e-book fiend. I work as a French teacher at a K-3 private school. I use drama, music, puppets, props and all manner of tech in my job, and I love it. I enjoy moving between all the classes and having a relationship with each child in the school. Kids are hilarious, and I enjoy watching them grow and learn. My current device of choice for reading is my Amazon Kindle Touch, but I have owned or used devices by Sony, Kobo, Aluratek and others. I also read on my tablet devices using the Kindle app, and I enjoy synching between them, so that I’m always up to date no matter where I am or what I have with me."


  1. I remember seeing an early e-book reader that looked a lot like the device in the image. Like with the Motorola StarTac, I’d say it’s a clear case of inspiration: people *wanted* the cool stuff they saw in Star Trek, so they made it happen. If anything, that was Star Trek’s most important quality: its ability to inspire people. As for bedtime stories and the like, these are social activities that have nothing to do with available technology. Some things don’t *need* to change, you know?

  2. It’s been a few years, but I’m pretty sure the pilot episode of the original series had someone reading a book on a computer terminal. Not exactly an e-reader, but an electronic book treated as an ordinary future thing back in 1966.

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