Although I've certainly consumed and enjoyed a lot of Star Trek in my life, I have to admit it has many shortcomings as science fiction, that is, as fiction that takes for its starting point speculations about the future state of science. Although I don't doubt that the writers of the various forms of Star Trek are both competent professionals and talented artists, they've been burdened by difficult positions taken at the very creation of the original show, and ever since have had to decide how much of this past they can shrug off.
One of the more problematic legacies of the show's origin is the transporter (another, Star Trek's laughable treatment of economics, should probably get a whole treatise rather than just a blog post, but I'll leave that for another time), which is one of those technologies sometimes posited in science fiction stories that, for various reasons, writers fail to fully explore. One of the most common reasons is that some technologies (or, in the case of superheroes, some powers) are altogether too powerful, and the consequences of that power pose a problem for storytelling; if characters have godlike abilities at their command, what room does that leave for drama, for tension and its relief, for a satisfying plot?
As a result, Roddenberry's heirs since the days of The Next Generation have struggled to find ways to break the damn thing. The transporters won't work at warp speeds (except when they do). The transporters won't work through shields (except when they do). The transporters are sabotaged or disabled constantly by villains. The transporters have all sorts of frequently-abused limitations that are not really necessary except to keep them from being too powerful for the good of the story; for instance, why is it possible to disassemble living organisms and reassemble them elsewhere, but not to replicate life by assembling the same patterns out of “raw” constituents?
However, more interesting (at least to me) are possible uses of the transporter that are not actually forbidden, but simply ignored, by the writers of Star Trek. Many of the more-obvious uses are medical:
- Surgeries of any kind should be completely unnecessary, so why was Captain Picard's chest cracked open to replace his artificial heart?
- Babies ought to be delivered routinely via transporter. To its credit Deep Space Nine actually did feature something like this in one episode, and I'm sure that many mothers would still choose the traditional method at any rate, but it would be nice to hear more about transporter delivery from time-to-time.
- The existence of “bio-filters” as part of the transporter system implies the end of all infectious disease, contrary to what is presented in many episodes.
The radical mobility provided by the transporter deserves to be better explored:
- How many shots of Starfleet personnel running down corridors, responding to some emergency, have we seen? Site-to-site transport ought to be routine in combat situations.
- Why are security officers risked in confrontations with dangerous persons? Why do we hear “beam him to the brig” so seldom?
- Wouldn't people, whether soldiers or civilians, carry something like a panic button that would immediately remove them from dangerous situations they may encounter? Forget about talking to some transporter operator and requesting to beam up, I'd like to have a global network of transporters tasked at all times to take you elsewhere, just activate something in your pocket or wherever. That would be a service I'd pay for!
Some neglected uses are simply for undignified convenience or some undignified fun (neither are much-endorsed in Star Trek):
- Beaming food into the stomach, for people with very demanding schedules.
- Getting dressed or undressed, for the same reason.
- Skydiving without a parachute, only to be rescued by a last-second transport, ought to be a popular stunt.
Finally, consider the fan-favorite question of how exactly Seven-of-Nine goes to the bathroom in her one-piece outfit—I think you know where this is going!