Sunday, February 22, 2004

The Holodeck Presidency

For those of you who never watched Star Trek – The Next Generation, the holodeck was the place where the crew could go for recreation. Through 24th Century technology, energy could be converted to matter and then generated as solid objects in an enclosed grid. It’s a set designer’s dream come true: anything could be created – scenery, props, lighting, even characters, and the holodeck computer held thousands of records of people, places and things. So if you wanted to visit 1940’s San Francisco right out of a Philip Chandler detective novel, or the English countryside for horseback riding, or 1890’s London for a Sherlock Holmes adventure, all you had to do was tell the computer what you wanted to do. Within a matter of seconds, the door opened into that world. You could even play with it like a live-in Xbox or Playstation with hundreds of pre-programmed games and stories. When it was over, all you had to do was tell the computer to end the program, the door would open, and the game was over. And none of the solid objects or characters created in the holodeck could exist outside of it – once the holoprojectors were turned off, they vanished like a dream.

Holodeck technology is still a few generations away – we still haven’t gotten over the tricky part about converting energy to matter – but if you look at the administration of George W. Bush, you’d think not only does holodeck technology exist, his entire presidency is one giant holodeck program. Here’s a world where all sorts of fantasies can play out: Good battles Evil like a retelling of Beowulf, the rich grow richer and the poor more desperate like Les Miserables or the Victorian London of Charles Dickens, where 2.6 million new jobs magically appear with the wave of a wand (hold it…we never said that – computer, freeze program!), and where Freedom and Democracy are the result of invasion and occupation. It’s all magical fun and games, but in the end, the game has to end.

There were a number of Star Trek episodes where things went wrong on the holodeck. In one episode, Lieutenant Reginald Barclay, played by Dwight Schultz, became so enamored of his Walter Mitty-like fantasies of brave and dangerous adventures (and where he always gets the girl) that he actually threatened the safety of the ship by taking over the main computer with his mind. I have a feeling that’s what’s happened inside the White House holodeck; 1st Lt. Bush is having so much fun playing with his make-believe world that the real ship of state he’s in charge of is heading into a black hole.

Unfortunately, we can’t just say, “Computer, end program.” It has to run its course. And we can’t end it by running our own holodeck programs here in the blogosphere, either. They are no more effective than his; for all the devotion and hard work – not to mention the fundraising – the Dean campaign was a holodeck program that crashed when it touched the reality of the voting booth. We need to take the lessons learned from that campaign, get out and get going in the real world – convert our energy into matter – because every vote matters (pun intended). The longer we allow Bush to play his holodeck games, the more dangerous our world becomes.