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TRICORDING: Am I on TV Yet?


   by Greg Kuchmek

In the world of Star Trek, fantasy is eventually mixed up with reality. For example, the U.S.S. Enterprise is named after a few prominent naval vessels in our past, and then the first NASA Space Shuttle is named after those other ships and our famed Federation vessel. Telephone technology has reached such a level that the Federation "communicator" is now a reality in the form of the cellular "flip-phone." Talk! Imagine what sort of chemical reaction goes on in your brain when you happen to see Leonard Nimoy or William Shatner using a flip-phone in real life! The psychological ramifications are endless! But when you start talking about the more "far-out" tech from the famed series—like warp engines, tricorders, and transporters—it stays firmly in the land of make-believe. Well, er...it did stay in the land of make-believe, that is, until the Canadian company known as Vital Technologies Corporation unveiled the TR-107 TRICORDER Mark 1.

"The TR-107 TRICORDER Mark 1 is a serious scientific instrument," Nancy Bassett, General Manager of Viacom Consumer Products, said. "It's an environmental sensor — like the fictional tricorders used in the Star Trek television series and movies to monitor the new worlds the U.S.S. Enterprise visited. The Mark 1 is the real predecessor —in looks and function —to the fictional Mark 7 tricorders seen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series."

When I first saw the Mark 1, I thought that this must be a half-assed science toy with some neat little blinking lights and the lot. But upon closer inspection, it proved to be quite an interesting device. The Mark 1 has several "real" functions and comes with an educational CD-ROM to make day-to-day use very simple. The educational and scientific possibilities are immediately quite obvious after seeing the list of functional capabilities:

Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Meter®- By measuring the strength of EMF radiation from a variety of sources in the home, school, and office, the TRICORDER allows people to make informed decisions about the positioning of equipment, appliances, electric heaters, work stations, and children's beds and play areas to minimize exposure. Research studies have shown that EMFs can affect the health and well-being of humans, plants, and animals;

Two Mode Weather Station®- By monitoring trends in atmospheric temperature and barometric pressure, farmers, gardeners, scientists, sports enthusiasts, and outdoorspeople can predict changes in the weather and plan accordingly;

Colorimeter®- By precisely analyzing colours, agriculturists can determine plants' health and needs; artists, decorators, photographers, etc. can precisely match colours; and researchers can perform a wide range of chemical analyses;

Light Meter® - Precise measurement of light is necessary for a wide range of commercial, industrial, domestic, research, artistic, and health applications; and

Stardate Clock and Timer® - The TRICORDER acts as a regular clock and calendar and measures elapsed time for sensing functions.

Naturally, one wants to know if it has "Trekkie" applications as well as educational and industrial ones. Immediately, one notices that the Mark 1 does kinda look like some sort of tricorder, with its sleek P.A.D.D.-like design, but even for the hard-core Trekkie, it might be too scientific for use in everyday fantasy role-playing. In fact, Vital Technologies' president, David Sweetnam, has said that the Trekkies "were actually afraid of the Mark 1, because it was too real! It took too much away from their fantasy!"

However, the Trekkies may be right! This may be just too close to fantasy. With the advent of this "real" tricorder, we are left to question the type of society we are living in: do we want to be remembered as a culture that developed technology based on a television show? What are the philosophical and psychological ramifications of seeing the real William Shatner use a real tricorder, or the real Leonard Nimoy use a real flip-phone? Does it matter that the idea originally came from a TV show? Inventions often come from ideas found in dreams and fantasies, so what does it matter that our culture's fantasies are in the form of bad science fiction on TV? The question is open for debate.

This piece of equipment will, however, be purchased by Trekkies for its immediate collector value; a thing Trekkies seem to have a natural attraction for. It may end up un-opened and covered with dust in their closet, on top of that un-opened Star Trek: Voyager model kit, but they will purchase TRICORDERs by the thousands. It is unlikely that any serious Trekkie will find a day-to-day use for such a device, beyond checking in collector's guides to see if its value has gone up or not.

I am sure Vital Technologies only considers the Trekkies to be an added bonus to their TRICORDER income. It's obvious that this device would eventually have come into existence without Star Trek, but it wouldn't have been as interesting or noteworthy. It most likely would have passed into the forgotten, un-hip land of educational learning aids and industrial equipment. But, since we do have Star Trek, when are we going to get phasers and replicators?   </end>


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