Joseph Campbell wrote that you can understand a culture's values by studying its heroes. This is true of geek culture as well. One character in particular is resonant with geek ideals and dreams. His name is Data, and he is an android. Because he is at once the ultimate human and the ultimate machine, it is unclear at this time whether most geeks wish to be Data, or just hang out with him.
Mikki Halpin - The Geek Handbook
Data: Captain Picard has been a role model in my quest to be more human.
Spock: More human?
Data: Yes Ambassador.
Spock: .... Fascinating ... you have an efficient intellect, superior physical skills, no emotional impediments ... there are Vulcans who aspire all their lives to achieve what you've been given, by design.
Data: Hmm. You are half human?
Data: Yet you have chosen a Vulcan way of life.
Spock: I have.
Data: In effect .. you have abandoned what I have sought ... all my life.
Lieutenant-Commander Data (Day-ta) is a character in the Star Trek universe. Played by Brent Spiner, Data was one of the main characters of the Star Trek: The Next Generation television series, and the subsequent movies that featured the crew of the Enterprise-D. In many ways, Data was the new version of Spock. For starters, he holds (one of) the same posts, serving as the Science Officer aboard the Enterprise-D (And subsequently the Enterprise-E). In addition, he also holds the post of 2nd Mate, serving as a backup to Commander William T. Riker's XO. The main similarity between the two, however, is their personalities, or lack thereof. Spock is a half human half Vulcan who chose to embrace his Vulcan side, eschewing passion in favor of sheer logic. Data is an artificially created life form, an android to be specific. He is in many ways superior to his human peers (Or Klingon, or Bajoran, or Bolian, or well you get the idea). His positronic brain allows him to think much faster, and his memory banks, with 88 petabytes of storage space allowed him to recall anything he needed to with perfect clarity. Physically speaking, he is stronger, faster, and more resistant to damage than his flesh and bone counterparts, illustrated amusingly one time when Counselor Troi accidentally shot him with an arrow during a Robin Hood simulation on the holodeck. On the other hand however, he lacks the capacity to feel emotions, and in many ways relate to his peers, being unable, for example, to use a contraction such as I'm in his speech. This lack of emotion, and his attempts to rectify that situation form the basis for Data's entire personality, IMNSHO.
Michael: I felt like the way the show explored the nature of the android, really said a lot about what it means to be human.
Brent: Hmm, I never thought of it that way. I was too busy hitting on Klingon extras. Which, let me tell you, is risky business. Until all that make up comes off, you don’t know what you’re getting.
- Scene from the sitcom Joey
This is where I disagree with the whole "Data not having any emotions" thing. You see, above all else, Data is a very curious individual, particularly when it comes to the human condition. Personally, I'd say that's a form of emotion. The thing that he is most curious about is not surprisingly, the thing he lacks. Being human, and experiencing all those wacky emotions that plague us.
Data was found amongst the ruins of a scientific research settlement on Omicron Theta, in the year 2338. He was the only survivor of an attack on the outpost by the mysterious Crystalline Entity, which was later destroyed by the Enterprise. Perhaps in some way wishing to emulate those Federation personnel who rescued him from the ruins of the planet, or perhaps wanting to repay a debt to his saviours, Data decided to follow a career path in the Federation Fleet. He enrolled in the Starfleet Academy, becoming the first artificial life form to ever do so. There, he did quite well with his academic studies, but had some problems with social interactions amongst his fellow students. He graduated from the Academy in 2345, with dual honours degrees in probability mechanics and exobiology.
After graduation, he had a rather decent career, spending 3 years as an ensign, before being promoted to the first of the Lieutenant ranks. After 12 years, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Commander, and then in 2363 he was posted to the brand new USS Enterprise-D, under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. This is where his story gets more interesting. What with the TV cameras watching him and all.
Friendships and More
Jenna: What were you just thinking?
Data: In that particular moment, I was reconfiguring the warp field parameters, analyzing the collected works of Charles Dickens, calculating the maximum pressure I could safely apply to your lips, considering a new food supplement for Spot...
Jenna: I'm glad I was in there somewhere.
- In Theory
Despite his supposed lack of emotions, Data has several close friends among the crew, mostly amongst the senior officers with whom he works most often, with a few notable exceptions. He explains these friendships as his "neural pathways have become accustomed to their sensory input patterns." His best friend is the ship Chief Engineering Officer, Lieutenant-Commander Geordi La Forge. As well as the rest of the bridge crew, he is also friends with Chief Petty Officer Miles O'Brian, and was the one who introduced him and his wife Keiko.
Data can always be trusted upon to tell you the truth, a rather rare trait amongst humans. His childlike curiosity towards the Universe in general, and towards the complexities of human interactions in specific may have been what initially endeared many of his friends to him. Many of them had their doubts when they first encountered the android, but over time his loyalty and utter dependability is likely what won them over.
Data: Ambassador Spock, may I ask a personal question?
Data: As you examine your life, do you find that you have missed humanity?
Spock: I have no regrets.
Data: No regrets. That is a human expression.
Spock: Yes .... fascinating...
He reads human literature voraciously, being able to skim through quickly and use his perfect recall to analyze it later. He is a big fan of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and enjoys role playing Sherlock Holmes in the holodeck, with Geordi serving as his Dr. Watson
This once lead to an incident where they had the computer create a Professor Moriarty smart enough to beat him, instead of merely smart enough to beat Holmes. Naturally, Moriarty almost took over the ship before our intrepid heroes were able to save the day.
He also briefly dated a young junior Lieutenant from security, by the name of Jenna D'Sora. By briefly, I mean for part of a single episode, because as you may be aware, The Next Generation hates continuity. As well, Data is the only person known to have gotten it on with security babe Tasha Yar, before her untimely death in the first season. I guess he likes his blond security officers.
Please note, from this point on, there shall be spoilers. Next Generation Ended its run in 1994, if you haven't seen it by now, I really doubt you care too much about having the story "ruined" for you. Oh and a couple spoilers from the movies I guess.
Early in the series, 2365 by their timeline, it was discovered that Data was made by the cyberneticist Dr. Noonien Soong. It was also discovered that he was not the only android created by Dr. Soong. He also has a "twin" brother, Lore. Not actually a twin brother, Lore having been created earlier. But they certainly look alike enough that people have trouble telling the difference. It would be a lot easier if Lore would just grow a goatee...
You see, Lore is your stereotypical evil twin. Star Trek was actually fined by the FCC rather heavily for breaking regulations requiring all evil twins to sport a goatee. I mean, evil Spock did it, why not Lore? The first time they met, Lore disabled Data and attempted to take over the Enterprise, to offer its crew as some form of a sacrifice to the Crystalline Entity... the same one he summoned years ago to kill all the colonists on Omicron Theta.
Lore also ended up killing his father, Dr. Soong, when both he and Data were summoned by a homing signal. Dr. Soong had wanted to give to Data the emotion chip that he had just perfected, but Lore stole it and killed him. He's not really a nice android. A few years after that, he used the power of his own faulty emotion chip to manipulate Data into aiding him in leading a group of rogue Borg, who had been cut off from the collective, in a fight against the Federation. After the good guys sorted out this mess, they finally dismantled Lore for good. Data took from Lore the emotion chip that Soong had intended for him. He did not, however, activate it until after the run of the series, in the movie Star Trek: Generations. He does, of course, have the advantage of being able to turn it off. Somewhat useful when going into battle.
Also in 2365, while the Enterprise was docked for maintenance, a Commander by the name of Bruce Maddox arrived on board with orders to take Data back to the Daystrom Institute, for disassembly and examination. Data, who was rather getting used to this whole existing thing, didn't feel like coming along. But the argument was made that he didn't really have a choice, what with him being Starfleet property and all. So, a hearing was held to determine whether or not Data counted as a person. Picard served as Data's council, arguing that Data is indeed a sentient being, and thus entitled to the protections accorded to all other organic sentient beings under Federation law. Riker, on the other hand, in his role as First Mate was forced to serve as the prosecution. Bound by duty to do his best, Riker seemed to be winning the case at the start, especially during the point in the trial where he proved his point of Data being merely a machine, by reaching over and turning him off.
Fortunately, Picard struck back with an impassioned case, drawing parallels between Data's case, and the countless instances of slavery throughout the history of the galaxy that are such an affront to the principals of the federation. He ended off his case by reminding everyone of their mission. "Starfleet was founded to seek out new life-well there it sits ... waiting" Data won the case, and politely refused Commander Maddox's offer to be disassembled.
So naturally, everyone had a little victory celebration in Ten Forward, and Riker was feeling rather glum. Probably because he almost did his job well enough to get a good friend dissected. Data at that point thanked Riker for that, as had he not, the decision would have been made in default against Data.
In 2366, he felt the need to reproduce. All the cool kids were doing it, after all. So he built himself a daughter, whom he named Lal. She was in some ways his superior, as she was able to feel emotion, and use verbal contractions. However, that whole emotions thing is what did her in, as she got scared when Starfleet scientists wanted to test her, and suffered a "cascade neural failure." Obviously the future has some serious quality control issues. At least when a human child gets scared it might wet itself, and cry. Generally, their brain doesn't melt unless they're really scared.
Data was also the one who managed to hack the Borg during their invasion of Federation Territory, sending them all to "sleep"
at the same time, and ultimately
causing the Borg Cube to blow up.
And then there was also the time that they found Data's head in an excavation of a mine from 19th century San Francisco. Needless to say, this prompted him to go back in time to make sure he'd leave it there. Fortunately, once they foiled the bad guys and such, they were able to reconnect the 500 year old head to the recently decapitated body, without any major problems. Maybe there are a few advantages to this being an android thing.
as we know, all good things must come to an end. Data's story comes to an end in 2379, during the events of the movie Star Trek: Nemesis, He was lost in the line of duty, aboard the Reman ship Scimitar, when it blew up, saving the Enterprise-E in the process. There is a possibility that they could bring the character back, as earlier in the movie the crew had found the head of a previous attempt by Dr. Soong, named B-4, and Data had transferred all his memory to that unit's head. This is unlikely however, as Brent Spiner has stated that he does not wish to continue playing the character, especially what with the fact that he's starting to look a lot older than he did in 1987, while the character he plays is not supposed to age.
Paramount Pictures. "Biography," STARTREK.COM 2005. <www.startrek.com/startrek/view/library/characters/TNG/bio/1112457.html> (February 12, 2006).
Wikipedia. "Data (Star Trek)," 11 February, 2006. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_(Star_Trek)> (February 12, 2006).
Mikki Halpin. The Geek Handbook. New York: Pocket Books, 2000.