Imagination Connoisseur and fan-favorite guest blogger, Willow Yang, is more than just a little creeped out by TNG’s Reginald Barclay’s bad hologram habit.

Dear Rob,

I know that you’re taking a hiatus at the moment so I don’t expect my letters to be read on air, but I do hope that Mike will continue on updating the website. (I am, Willow – Ed) I’m sending over my thoughts on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (ST:TNG) episodes: Hollow Pursuits and Galaxy’s Child, both of which explored the problems of recreating real-life people in holodeck simulations.

Hollow Pursuits introduced the character of Reginald Barclay, played by Dwight Schultz. I actually first heard of Dwight Schultz from my high school classmate, John. John had a bit of an obsession with the actor; I don’t really know why, but I think he might have just liked the name. He actually once wrote a piece for a creative writing class that had a character named Dwight Schultz as a werewolf. It was a very weird story; I’ll just leave it at that.

I’m personally mixed about the depiction of a socially awkward and anxiety-ridden character in Hollow Pursuits. Barclay certainly possessed some traits that really resonated with me. I dread socializing with others. One method that has always helped me to cope is through imagination. I would often re-enact conversations and situations in my head as a way to help bolster my self-esteem.

Moreover, I do like to indulge in self-masturbatory fantasies where I’ve become an idealized version of myself, where I’m some great hero who can defeat anyone in a swordfight and have many handsome men at my beck and call. If holodeck technology existed, I’d certainly use it to live out daydreams of things that I can’t do in real life.

However, Barclay also had some traits that I found to be quite cringe worthy. I consider myself to be a very punctual person and have never been late to work or to a meeting because I was too busy fantasizing. I guess there just wouldn’t be too much of a story if Barclay’s holodeck habits weren’t interfering with his work performance, but I did find the portrayal of an introverted character to be a bit too negative.

I know that I’m probably at a disadvantage compared to those who have more outgoing personalities, but I don’t think that I’m incompetent and completely ineffectual in the workplace. It’s just very odd to me that someone like Barclay would have been able to graduate from Starfleet Academy without having been taught any techniques to help him deal with his social difficulties. And then, of course, there’s his peculiar fetish of running simulations using the likenesses of his coworkers. I personally don’t connect with that type of behaviour; it’s pretty strange and awkward to me. I can certainly understand the extremely negative reactions that the other crewmembers had when they came across his programs of them.

The only person on the ship who appeared to somewhat sympathise with Barclay’s rather strange holodeck affliction was Geordi La Forge. Part of the reason was probably because he too had created, and then subsequently fallen in love with, a holodeck version of a living person in Dr. Leah Brahms in Booby Trap.

I think the main differences between Barclay’s and La Forge’s situations were that Brahms wasn’t working on the Enterprise when La Forge made the program of her, and his initial intention wasn’t for pleasure but for professional consultation. But of course, La Forge still got taken to task when the real Brahms paid the Enterprise a visit in Galaxy’s Child.

Now, as an aside, I’ve always disliked the way that female scientists and doctors are often depicted on screen. The women are frequently attractive, young, and single. That has no, to use Rob’s favourite word, verisimilitude. A doctorate takes about 5 years (longer if you choose to complete a masters first); medical school takes 4 years, with an additional 3-7 years of residency required before you’re eligible for a medical licence. The numbers just don’t add up: I can’t believe that most of the women I’ve seen on screen are old enough to have gotten out of grad or med school, much less become renowned experts in their fields. And of course, the percentage of single women is just grossly inflated: while I don’t have any actual statistics, I’d say that the majority of people with doctorates I’ve encountered, male or female, are either married or at least in committed relationships. Films and television like to sacrifice realism for the sake of some sexual tension and drama, and I get that, but it is something that drives me nuts.

All this is to say is that I do applaud Galaxy’s Child for having some realism by revealing that Brahms was married (even though I don’t understand why an intelligent and respectable guy like La Forge always seems to have trouble finding dates whereas Wesley gets a princess and Ashley Judd, but that’s a topic for another day). The other thing that I really appreciated is the extremely negative initial reaction that Brahms had upon discovering La Forge’s holodeck recreation of her, going as far as to say that she felt violated.

It seemed like a realistic response that someone in her position would have. Booby Trap was told from La Forge’s perspective, and when we see the story that way, his actions seemed relatively innocent and understandable. However, from Brahms’ point of view, this could be interpreted as being very creepy and a serious incursion on her privacy.

Her reaction was similar to those from Riker and the other crew members when they came upon Barclay’s programs of them; I think many people in their positions would probably find such an affair humiliating.

What are the ethics of using technology like the holodeck to create real life people?

On one hand, I can understand the privacy issues it would cause, that many people would be disturbed by the idea of having their likenesses used without consent. On the other hand, people do frequently fantasize about each other, and that isn’t really something that anyone can or should control.

Even though it is often played as a recurring gag throughout The Next Generation, if you’re a telepath like Lwaxana Troi, you’re going to be inundated with crude thoughts from coworkers. If a person keeps their simulations to themselves and doesn’t allow their habits to interfere with their work and professional relationships, I’m not sure if it’s too far removed from personal fantasies.

I’d certainly never create simulations of people that I actually know and interact with on a daily basis; however, I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn’t want to use such technology to play out some of my slash fiction fantasies. If the holodeck existed today, and we were to judge people by the programs they run, we’d all probably be seen as creeps.

Live long and prosper,
– Willow