Tech Trek. Technology and Star Trek go together like a Klingon and honor. Phasers, communicators, tricorders, holodecks and the occasional hypospray are just a few of the high tech toys fans love to discuss or even create for themselves. Go to any sci-fi convention. You’ll see scores of fans sporting home made tech which is as good or rivals the professionally made gear. You’ll see something called LCARS too.
All these tech toys are boosted by the computer monitors and data readouts found throughout the ship – and on devices like PADDs and tricorders. The text displays and signage is an integral part of the Trek universe, and the LCARS (Library Computer Access Retrieval System) is one of the most recognizable.
The Original Series
Captain Kirk’s Enterprise may have been the first one fans saw, however it boasted serious blinking lights. Call em blinkage or blinkies – fact is his ship’s monitors and control panels showcased on Enterprise 1701 fairly resembled a Christmas mega store. It was all quite neat looking and certainly wonderfully colorful, but there was no true consistency or uniform look.
Star Trek is about the future – looking forward and redefining humanity’s ideas of its exploration and how science and technology engage us and factor into our human adventure. The look of how it’s achieved can be vital. When the next incarnation of the legendary television show was developed, it ushered in a new look and feel.
The Next Generation
When Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987, it came after four films. Fans had seen 79 episodes of TOS the original series, a season of an award winning animated TV show and blockbuster motion pictures. It was time for a stunning new look and feel for the next outer space trek for Star Trek.
To capture a new flavor for this new generation, the show employed artist Mike Okuda to create a look for the 24th century. It was a tall order to be sure, but he was no newcomer to the Trek family. Okuda had worked previously on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and would go on to be tech consultant and art supervisor on many more Trek projects.
Roddenberry directed his TV production team to go easy on the tech – to make it as ‘unobtrusive as possible’. Okuda took Gene’s suggestion and made the LCARS as sleek and as efficient as possible. However, he never compromised on the colorful appearance and cool factor. As Next Gen progressed and into motion pictures, the LCARS look or Okudagrams, became more complex and engaging. It’s become so popular whole websites have sprung up dedicated to celebrating Mike Okuda’s Okudagram artwork.
Why do we love LCARS? Star Trek: The Next Generation’s high tech look still thrills fans after thirty years. For me, as a computer enthusiast and geek, LCARS represented a fun, yet still realistic look into a future years away. In 1987, we only had PC’s – tablets and smartphones were nearly two decades up the road. The notion of using touchscreen devices to access information, video and music blew our minds. Today, we live that awesome magic each and every day. Thanks to Star Trek, Mike Okuda and LCARS, we lived a similar dream before it was actually realized.