This has to be one of the most iconic phrases to come out of an iconic TV series! How many times have you heard it quoted or used in various awkward situations? (The best I've heard is the man in court who'd just been sentenced, when the judge asked if he had anything to say...).
And how many times have we wished it could be true! I have a fifty mile commute to work – fifty miles each way, that is – fifty miles of the same stretch of road every working day. Fifty miles which takes between an hour and an hour and a half to drive (except when roadworks or accidents push it up to two hours or more). An hour and a half that I could better use in all sorts of ways (such as sleeping).
Yes, I'd love to call up Scottie and have him beam me directly there.
Of course, it's a great device for SF writers to use. Saves having to make room in the plot for travel time from starship to planet (accept on those occasions when you want some travel time, in which case it's easy enough to invent a reason why the matter transmitter won't work, and they have to use the shuttlecraft). But there could be practical benefits as well.
If we had matter transmitters, we would save so much time in travelling, we'd save so much money on cars and on all the infrastructure that they require. Too bad that it's not technically possible yet – it's one technology that would be all upside and no downside.
Or then again, is that true?
It occurs to me that the big problem with matter transmission might not be technical, but spiritual. Because with that sort of technology, there would be no journey.
Departure and arrival would take place simultaneously. You would say goodbye and hello in the same breath. Is that a good thing?
It's true, I don't enjoy journey's as much as I used to, even apart from the daily commute. Journeys can be tedious, uncomfortable, even dangerous. But they can also be valuable. They give time for thinking, time for seeing, time for making the adjustment between here and there. The journey marks the difference between leaving and arriving, between goodbye and hello.
And that difference, that gap, is important. Abrupt transitions can be painful, leaving us dislocated and struggling to adjust. Our identity, our sense of self and of who we are needs a sense of where we are, a place to ground ourselves in, a place to be. If that sense of place is eroded by the lack of a journey, our sense of self might be likewise eroded.
It has often been said that 'life is a journey'. So often that it's a cliché, but like most clichés, true. We do not become who we are all at once. We grow into ourselves, we change in the process, in the journey.
An artist does not produce their best work on the first attempt. However good they are, however great their talent, there is more to learn. They must grow in their craft, their art must develop in them and change them as it does so. They have to journey. It would be sad if it were otherwise, if once they had done one thing, that was all there was to do. If they had no journey to undertake, they would have no time or opportunity to grow. They would never become more.
Our lives need journeys. Voyages of discovery, adventures, opportunities to see and hear and experience not only what is here and what is there, but what is between them. Even the drudgery of the daily commute can give opportunity for thought and reflection. We become who we are in the journey.
Don't beam me up, Scottie. I'll take the scenic route.