Star Trek fan and U.S. President Barack Obama, serving as guest editor for Wired’s November issue, discussed with Wired editor in chief Scott Dadich and MIT media lab Director Joi Ito how he grew up on Star Trek, the importance of the series, and how the Enterprise and her crew are like the United States: diverse, cooperative, and up for any challenge.
Obama, in a sweeping interview about technology and the future, mentioned that he was a “sucker” for Star Trek as a kid. He used to watch the same twenty episodes over and over again.
“I was a sucker for Star Trek when I was a kid. They were always fun to watch. What made the show lasting was it wasn’t actually about technology. It was about values and relationships. Which is why it didn’t matter that the special effects were kind of cheesy and bad, right? They’d land on a planet and there are all these papier-mâché boulders. [Laughs.] But it didn’t matter because it was really talking about a notion of a common humanity and a confidence in our ability to solve problems.”
The President lauded Star Trek’s depiction of a diverse crew working across boundaries, either real or perceived, to solve problems.
“Star Trek, like any good story, says that we’re all complicated, and we’ve all got a little bit of Spock and a little bit of Kirk [laughs] and a little bit of Scotty, maybe some Klingon in us, right? But that is what I mean about figuring it out. Part of figuring it out is being able to work across barriers and differences. There’s a certain faith in rationality, tempered by some humility. Which is true of the best art and true of the best science. The sense that we possess these incredible minds that we should use, and we’re still just scratching the surface, but we shouldn’t get too cocky. We should remind ourselves that there’s a lot of stuff we don’t know.”
Obama felt that a more recent piece of art, 2015’s The Martian, also demonstrated Star Trek’s spirit of coming together to overcome difficulties and solve problems.
A recent movie captured the same spirit—The Martian. Not because it had a hugely complicated plot, but because it showed a bunch of different people trying to solve a problem. And employing creativity and grit and hard work, and having confidence that if it’s out there, we can figure it out. That is what I love most about America and why it continues to attract people from all around the world for all of the challenges that we face, that spirit of “Oh, we can figure this out.” And what I value most about science is this notion that we can figure this out. Well, we’re gonna try this—if it doesn’t work, we’re gonna figure out why it didn’t work and then we’re gonna try something else. And we will revel in our mistakes, because that is gonna teach us how to ultimately crack the code on the thing that we’re trying to solve. And if we ever lose that spirit, then we’re gonna lose what is essential about America and what I think is essential about being human.