When Tweeters Meet Trekkies

By Nancy Ramsey

Nov 19, 2010 10:16am

ABC News On Campus reporter Matt Phifer blogs: One evening in August, Syracuse associate professor Anthony Rotolo was in a Twitter chat for young professionals.  When some complained that their more experienced professionals and mentors were reluctant to allow them to take the lead, Rotolo tweeted about Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s decision to allow a 16-year-old character lead an away mission in order to show him responsibility.  The reference, of course, is to "Star Trek," and immediately Rotolo got feedback from fellow Trekkies who complimented him and suggested he teach a course on the series.  So starting in the spring, SU undergrads can take “Star Trek and the Information Age.”  The class will use the four "Star Trek" series that ran between 1966 and 2001 and a few of the films to explore issues from management styles to privacy to unmanned, remote warfare.  Or to explore the Borg mind. The Borg was a race in Star Trek that had one collective mind.  Twitter and Google have each been referred to as the Borg mind, and the class would make comparisons between the fictional Borg and those real information systems.  Meghan Dornbrock will be the TA of the class and is an avid Trekkie.   The characters on the shows “deal with all sorts of issues like, Is the android who’s on our team, is he considered a human?  And why or why not?”  said Dornbrock. “And how do we deal with this new technology that we had to make up in the last 40 minutes of this episode, you know, to solve whatever our problem is, because we’re facing a lot of those exact same issues right now.” The class’s final project will ask for students to envision Starfleet-esque systems using current technology.  Rotolo wants students to find out how we could create a working environment that provides the functionality seen on "Star Trek," such as when a character walks into a room and orders “lights,” and all the lights go on.  Rotolo noted that a lot of our technologies now are beginning to mirror what appeared on shows like "Star Trek." “A lot of the people who invent emerging technology, who invent the future, had a vision of the future from 'Star Trek,'” Rotolo said, “So whether it’s people who create the iPad at Apple — where in 'Star Trek' there’s been a device just like it in all those series called the Pad — whether or not that was invented because of 'Star Trek' or just inspiration or whether it was predicted is really a question that’s difficult to answer, but the inspiration is definitely there.” Syracuse senior Sean Herron may be one of those students who will be inspired.  Herron is a public policy major who is interested in space and would like to find a way to fill the gaps in our modern technologies.  Although he has never watched "Star Trek" beyond the most recent movie, he is taking the class to mix fun and learning. “I think that’s really an important part of education, you know,” Herron said, “finding areas where you have interest, but also are enjoyable to you as a person, and so I think this class would kind of fulfill both of those.” This is not the first 'Star Trek' class offered by a college.  Georgetown University has a class called “Philosophy and Star Trek,” in which students analyze major philosophical questions such as whether or not time travel is possible and the nature of time.  Indiana University in Bloomington offers “Star Trek and Religion,” billed as “the critical study of religion by way of popular culture.” So far, Syracuse students and faculty seem enthusiastic. “Almost everybody I’ve ever told about the class has said either, if they aren’t a student currently, 'I wish I could take that,' or if they are a student and they don’t like 'Star Trek' they say, ‘Well, I haven’t really watched Star Trek, is that OK?  Can I still take the class?’” Rotolo says, “And of course the answer is yes.  I don’t think you need to be a Trekkie or a Trekker to take this class.  I can’t promise you won’t be one by the end of the class.”  

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