Sunday, October 13, 2013

What I've Been Pondering: Teleporters and Teleportation


A hypothetical method of transportation in which matter or information is dematerialized, usually instantaneously, at one point and recreated at another.

Sometimes, it seems like it would be really nice to have a teleporter. None of this: “Traffic is too slow today, I’m going to be late for my work/school/blood donation,” you just press a button, and your atoms have been separated, flying through the air at the speed of light to re-form wherever you want to be. At least, that’s how Star Trek makes it look. But would teleporters really be all that great?

SO,  teleporters. Since nobody has built a teleporter yet, I can’t talk about present-day examples. Hey wait- yes I can!

 The idea of teleportation  is one that re-occurs in almost every genre of fiction. The most obvious example, of course, is Star Trek. Everyone knows what “Beam me up Scotty” means. The transporter room was one of the most important on the Enterprise. This advanced technology was used to move the away-team from the Enterprise to whatever alien planet they were boldly venturing to next. It was used for emergency evacuations, especially from exploding ships, hostile planets, and other issues. But, like all technology, transporters in the Star Trek universe had their limitations. For one, unless the transporter can lock onto your location, you’re not going anywhere. Also, the beam could malfuction at the most inopportune times. Sorry, that’s just how it is. 

And that… could be a problem, like in this video, when the Enterprise is being drained of energy and so can't extract Spock.

Another example of teleportation in popular media is Apparation and Disapparation in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which is basically teleportation via magical means.

As long as you’d studied how to do it properly, you could do it (and even take a friend with you using Side-Along-Apparation) with minimal discomfort. If you don’t know how to do it properly however, you could end up Splinched- that is, put together wrong, or with parts… missing. Exactly as painful as it sounds. Wizards treat it like getting a driver’s licence- you get Apparation Ed at Hogwarts, and take a test for your official license. 
So if teleportation were to become a reality, we’d probably have to issue many of the same precautions that JK establishes in her novels.

Privacy issues are a problem which could occur with teleportation. After all, robbery could be really easy with this new tech, and you could literally get away with murder- instantaneous transportation enables for convenient getaways.

Rowling allows for some of these problems: for example, apparating is generally blocked in most wizarding buildings… except for Dumbledore, apparently. 

 Wait wait wait. In the books, he and Harry sneak out to Hogsmeade under the Invisibility Cloak.
That's right. 
Dumbledore. Can’t. Apparate. In. Hogwarts. But house-elves can, because they're awesome.

Not addressed in these examples, however, is the consequences of eliminating all travel time. Some people like airplanes. (Some people don't.)

Would teleportation render airplanes defunct? I know I would miss them… 

This would probably mean the end of enjoying an afternoon drive, or the road trip. To date, I personally have spent too many hours in the car, on road trips with my family, to count. At least two per year, probably. Maybe.

Also, why would you want to give up cars?

This would probably eliminate the need for…  a journey. And honestly, do we need any more reasons to speed up our already high-speed lives? We’d be expected to be on time, all the time. Which probably means we’d find other things to fill up our time, and we’d stay exactly as busy as before. 

 Here's something interesting: Hayao Miyazaki doesn't fill his narratives with excessive action, but gives his characters time to breathe. In an interview with Roger Ebert in 2002, Miyazaki discussed this decision:

'I told Miyazaki I love the "gratuitous motion" in his films; instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are.
"We have a word for that in Japanese," he said. "It's called ma. Emptiness. It's there intentionally."
Is that like the "pillow words" that separate phrases in Japanese poetry?
"I don't think it's like the pillow word." He clapped his hands three or four times. "The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it's just busyness. But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb."'
- Hayao Miyazaki interview with Roger Ebert
If we were to institute teleportation, the likiehood is that we would actually have LESS spare time than we already do. We wouldn't get small moments where we were caught in the rain, or waited for a ride, or just relaxed. 
Emptiness is important, and if teleportation did away with that, I think that we would become less than we are now.

Tell me what you think: would teleporters be beneficial or not?