RT Cunningham


Star Trek and Its Influence on Popular Culture

William Shatner - Star Trek In 1966, the first episode of the first Star Trek series was aired on broadcast television, a couple of months before my 6th birthday.

Since then, countless movies, TV series (both live action and animated), novels and a variety of fan fiction items have been produced as sequels and prequels to the events in the original series.

The original series itself has been reissued on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray and has even been remastered and enhanced.

Star Trek: The Original Series

The original series, retro-named “Star Trek: The Original Series” and “Star Trek: TOS”, has always been issued and listed in episode order by air date. The proper way to view them, in my opinion, is in production order. If you’re watching the series for the first time, some episodes will not make sense unless you watch them in production order. Some episodes won’t make sense anyway, but never mind that. You can find the production numbers in the episode guide on Wikipedia.

Since I’ve seen all the episodes of the original Star Trek series, either as first-run or as reruns in the 1970s, I’m more interested in the details of each episode than the story line. Watching the first few episodes again recently made me think about the popular cultural impact of the series, and not only in the United States.

Young people who’ve never watched the original series will automatically assume that the current iterations of Star Trek are copying items now used in society and that may be true to an extent. That wasn’t possible when the original series aired, however, because the technology used in the series didn’t exist.

Mobile Phones

What do you think inspired the first Motorola cell phones with the flip phone design? Do you honestly think they came up with that design for cell phones on their own? Yes, that design would have probably been invented eventually, but that brings me to the next point: What inspired cell phones in the first place?

The inventor of the first mobile phone admitted to being inspired by the communicators of the original series. You should read an article that asks if Steve Jobs (dead link removed) studied Star Trek for more about it.


Did Steve Jobs come up with the idea for the iPad all by himself or was he inspired by something else? While I doubt he picked it up from the tablets shown on 2001: A Space Odyssey, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out he was inspired by the TV sequels to Star Trek (Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine).

When Apple and Samsung were fighting it out in the courts, Samsung specifically mentioned 2001: A Space Odyssey as prior art in the patent dispute. They would probably have been better off mentioning Star Trek: The Next Generation. Do a Google image search for “tablets star trek” and you’ll see what I mean.

Computer Monitors

The full-color computer monitors used in the quarters and the conference room of the original series have only recently appeared, in relative terms. When the series was produced, only black and white monitors existed for computers and computers as household items wasn’t even a dream yet.

The monitors, if you pay attention while watching, were slimmer than the CRT monitors we were stuck with until the first generation of LCD monitors became available. They weren’t as slim as our current monitors, but they weren’t nearly as fat (from front to back) as the CRT monitors.

Star Trek and Popular Culture

I could go on and on about the different aspects of the original Star Trek series, but I won’t. What amuses me the most is how fans of the series have reacted over the years and not only at the many conventions.

Star Trek ringtones are available, along with magazines, collectibles and other memorabilia. Fans wear various Star Trek uniforms almost as often as they wear “normal” attire and I’m not talking about “cosplay”. Some fans have even converted rooms and entire homes into places that look like they belong to Star Trek.

There are more people who can tell you the names of the Star Trek characters than the names of the leaders in their own governments. It’s sad to say that most Americans have more historical knowledge of Star Trek than their own national history. I’m sure Americans aren’t alone in that regard.

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By RT Cunningham
February 2, 2014
Entertainment and Recreation

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