To Boldly Go
“Good afternoon, sir,” the grocery store clerk says as I enter the supermarket. “How are you today?”
“Fine,” I reply. Thinking the guy’s trying to sell me something I try maneuvering my shopping cart around him. That’s not so easy. The cart has a faulty wheel. I always get the screwed up carts.
“We’re introducing a new computer system here at Quick Shop,” the clerk continues, pretending not to notice my evasive maneuver. “Would you like to participate in our pilot program?”
“We’re trying to make shopping at Quick Shop a more efficient and pleasant experience,” the man says, producing a handheld device that looks like a weapon from the future. “With this scanner you can scan the bar codes of the items you’re purchasing and the computer will add up your bill, deduct coupons, and ring you up when you’re finished.”
“Really?” I reply, intrigued. “It does all that?”
“Do I have to use the self-checkout lane?” I ask. “I hate that lane. The computer always screws up, you have to wait for a clerk to rescue you – I prefer a human being at the register. “
“I understand, sir,” the clerk replies. “The self-checkout lane’s not the best experience. But we’re trying to change that. After you fill the handheld with your purchases you just point the device at the register and it automatically tabulates your bill. All you have to do is pay, bag, and leave.”
“Is it really that easy?”
“That’s what we’re trying to find out sir. Will you help us?”
Far be it for me to stand in the way of progress. “Sure,” I reply. “Why not?”
After a brief tutorial the clerk slips the handheld scanner into the convenient holder that’s been clipped to the handle of my shopping cart. “Have fun, sir,” the clerk says. “And thanks for participating in our pilot program.”
“When you’re done let me know how it went.”
I leave the clerk behind and start shopping. My first stop’s the produce aisle. I pick out several apples, weigh them, scan the SKU on the produce table, and enter the weight into the handheld. The little computer neatly adds up my bill. Very cool. I move on to the coffee aisle, run the dancing red laser light over a can of java, and drop it into my cart. Presto chango, the device adds everything up. Now I have a running tally of my purchases. I could get used to this.
As I travel down the aisles I smile to myself. I saw the new Star Trek movie last night and I can’t get over how much the world is becoming more like that fictional universe everyday. As I hold the handheld scanner in my hand I realize where I’ve seen it before. It looks like a phaser from one of the Trek television shows. Hmmm.
It’s been often said, but how many devices did we see on Star Trek that are realities today? Dr. McCoy used to wave a wand over his patients and accurately diagnose illnesses, usually saying, “This man is dead, Jim.” When I went to get a ultrasound of my gallbladder the technician basically did the same thing, albeit with a bigger kind of device. Thank God she didn’t say what Bones usually did. (Is it just me or was Doctor McCoy’s patient morbidity rate kind of high?) And look at all the CAT scans, PET scans, MRIs we’ve got today. Even my MD inputs my height, weight, blood pressure, and prescriptions into into a tablet computer. Star Trekkin at the doctor’s office
But it’s also everyday items that are coming closer to the Star Trek ideal. When I was watching the movie the communicators the Starfleet officers flipped open looked exactly like the cellphones the teenagers in the audience were texting each other on. And when I saw the product placements for Nokia I had to restrain a chuckle. Will there still be straightjacket service contracts in in the 23rd Century? Probably. Cellular companies are worse than the Klingons.
As I’m scanning cans of tuna the iPhone clipped to my hip starts to vibrate. I glance down and see I’ve gotten an email from someone on the other side of the world. I unclip the phone and thumb a quick reply. When I was small the only way to talk to someone in Malaysia was an expensive long distance call or a letter. What a brave new world we live in.
As I return the iPhone to my belt I realize Apple’s wonder product is probably a technological precursor to the tricorder of Star Trek fame. You remember the tricorder. That was the device Spock was always carrying around. It told him when miniskirted life forms were approaching, described the topography of alien worlds, and usually saved Captain Kirk’s ass. My phone, and other devices like it, are approaching that level of sophistication. Now I can pinpoint my location on the earth, take snapshots of miniskirted Terrans, and find out where to get good Thai food. Scanning for Lard Nar, Captain.
Saving the perishable items for last, I roll my rattling cart over to the meat counter. As I’m looking through the steaks I notice a babushka type lady poking her fingers into packets of hamburger. I have eaten animal flesh and have enjoyed it. Man, this lady’s not only rude, she’s gross. When she bends down to poke more cow parts I take the handheld scanner and zap it at her ample behind, As the laser light flickers across her ass I’m deeply disappointed. The meat molester doesn’t disintegrate into her constituent atomic particles. Damn.
I leave the beef fetishist behind and finish my shopping. When I get to the counter to ring up my purchases the whole process goes off without a hitch. Even though I know the system is designed to replace humans who need pesky things like paychecks and health benefits, I’m impressed with how easy the whole process was. As I’m leaving the store the clerk I talked to earlier comes up to me.
“So how’d everything go, sir?”
“Everything was fine,” I reply. “Except for one thing.”
“My phaser didn’t disintegrate the woman sticking her finger in the hamburger meat.”
The clerk smiles. “Our phasers are only set to stun.”
“With some of the customers around here? They should be set to vaporize.”
The clerk rolls his eyes. “Tell me about it.”