Tuesday, October 15, 2013

EE Goes to the Movies Ep. 3: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

For those of you who don't remember, the fourth Star Trek film was the one where Kirk and crew saved the earth from a giant space probe that was trying to talk to whales by going back in time on a stolen Klingon Bird of Prey. Filmed on location in San Francisco and Monterey (while I lived there no less), it was that piece of cinematic virtuosity that generously granted the world the phrase "nuclear wessels."

One of the more memorable scenes involved Kirk and a newly-resurrected Spock riding the bus to the Cetacean Institute (proxied nicely by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, again, while I was living in the NPGS housing), in which... well, look for yourself.

Imagine this scene if Hikaru Sulu had been better at reading Klingon and had set the time coordinates for 2013 instead of 1986. They would have still gotten their whales, Montgomery Scott would have been able to use a voice-to-text program, and the "punk" on the bus would have had buds stuffed all up in his ear chasms.

The intervening 27 (oy!) years have rendered public transit more civil. More euvoluntary. If you're Leonard Nimoy, more craggy. At least part of the march of progress has been to tidy the place up, to reduce externalities (close your eyes and remember how bad the litter problem was in the 70s), to make it more comfortable for people to be polite.

The thing that continues to amaze me is that much of it is the result of individual action. The caricature econo-mystical "rational" actor would chuck a fast food bag out of a moving car so long as MC<MB. The private cost of littering (or of listening to terrible ersatz punk rock loudly on a city bus) is quite low, so long as there are no Vulcans in neck-pinching distance, so we should expect to see a lot of it. But actual folks are no more Max-U types than I am a Nile plover. Engineers work diligently on products that have the delightful side effect of injecting peace into our daily commute. Environmental conscientiousness tropes stay the hands of would-be litterbugs. Shame keeps errant nosepickers' fingers away from nostrils until a touch of surreptitiousness is available. The world is ever more euvoluntary.

And I think I'd like to take the opportunity to thank Shatner and Nimoy for their contribution. Who knows, without this scene, perhaps the guys at Apple might not have put quite so much thought into making the experience of enjoying music a bit less public.

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?