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What Would Starman Think?

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WHAT WOULD STARMAN THINK?
- About Email
By Chuck S.

“How’s the new computer, Scott?” A genuinely interested Starman inquired as he passed by his son’s room.

“It’s great, Dad. I’m chatting with this astronomer at the top of the Mauna Kea Volcano, on the Big Island of Hawaii.” Scott was busy typing away and kept at it, even while turning sideways to answer his dad.

“Chatting?” The man from the stars looked perplexed. “I thought you only could chat when one has a conversation with someone else.”

“It’s email, Dad. And chatting is just what they call it. We send electronic messages back and forth, so it’s kind of like chatting to each other, only not in person.”

A look of familiarity came over his dad’s features. “Oh yes, electronic mail - I’ve been hearing a lot about that. It sure shrinks the world, doesn’t it? Here you are talking to someone thousands of miles away, whom you’ve never met, and he’s just like a friend to share your thoughts, trade knowledge, and hang out with.”

Scott grinned. “Gee Dad, you sure picked up the lingo of the 90’s. You’re right, email is a form of hanging out with people who share your interests.”

“What a tremendous force to bring the world closer together. Maybe it can reduce the potential for conflict if everyone starts communicating with each other. How did you find your astronomer friend?”

Scott smiled. “Easy, Dad. I typed ‘Algeiba’ in a search engine and found the Mauna Kea Observatory listed with the email address of an astronomer who was researching your star.”

The man from Algeiba was visibly impressed. “So email and search engines can help like-minded people find each other? Scott, that’s ‘awesome,’ as you used to say. But you know, Scott, I can see some dangers with this new technology, too. What if people started using it to avoid direct human contact? What if people started sending emails to others in the same company on the same floor, a few doors down? Seems like the social aspects of coming to work would start to go away. Pretty soon, everyone would just sit at their desk typing emails all day, interacting with no one but their computer.”

Scott grew thoughtful. “You’re right, Dad, I never thought of it that way. Instead of bringing people together, email could actually reduce face-to-face conversation. That could lead to more misunderstandings, not less. I hope it never goes that far.”

“Yes, and how long do you think the world would last without facial or non-verbal expressions to interpret meaning?”

“Hmm. You got a point, there, Dad.”

"Or a dad's loving touch on his son's shoulder?"

"Well, some teens think they can do without that one. They're wrong, of course. But you're right. You just can't communicate some things unless it's in person."

“Email will change the world, Scott. It’s up to humans to use it as a tool for positive change improving communication, not hindering it.”

Paul paused, and then asked thoughtfully, “Scott?”

“Yes, Dad?”

“What type of fuel does a search engine use?”

As Scott wrinkled his nose in disgust, thinking, Is he still so naive?, he caught the faintest twinkle in the eyes of his not so just-off-the-ship father, and laughed at his dad’s another attempt at humor, simultaneously realizing the Starman had just brilliantly illustrated his point.

“Lame, Dad. Really lame.”

Soundlessly, Paul mimed his best expression of guilty innocence, punctuated with a raised eyebrow. Who, me?

POSTSCRIPT:

April 3, 2012. This story was written in the late 90's. Little did Paul and Scott realize back then how much our lives would come to depend on our electronic devices to communicate. The many benefits of email, social media, instant video, blogs, and all the rest of the our modern day capabilities, including even this Archive of Our Own, have been accompanied by new concerns such as texting while driving, sexting, obesity - as kids spend most of their waking hours in front of a visual display, privacy, and cyber-bullying. And of course, Paul’s primary concern about the dangers of increased miscommunication by decreasing live human interaction is still pertinent.

For so many people, even email has been a lifeline, let alone Facebook and Skype. Had these means of organizing groups and getting the word out to large numbers been around in 1987, it's very likely STARMAN might have run for another few seasons. Without email, connections made through Starmanet, the fandom's website and discussion list, would not have existed, and the world would have been a much more lonely place. The relationships may have started with an email seeking fuzzy, taped copies of the episodes, or a passionate comment emailed to a discussion group about some minute detail, wondering, for instance, why Paul would chase after Scott without first picking up the sphere Scott threw on the ground in the first episode. They continued with fans becoming a community, writing fan fiction, and keeping a now ancient TV series alive in hearts and minds for a quarter century.

And yet so many of these connections were enhanced in face to face gatherings going back 25 years. As Paul had forseen, email would change the world, and those who had used this new tool in conjunction with old fashioned face to face communication from time to time, created a synergy which enhanced the best of both mediums.