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Having seen most episodes in TNG, and being an all around big fan, I am constantly surprised that Data is so awkward. Yeah I know, he's "not a human but is trying to become human". But he already has a decorated Starfleet career before coming on the enterprise. I would imagine that someone so observant would have, at some point in the twenty years prior (including fifteen years on the USS Trieste), picked up on most of the things that continue to baffle him on the Enterprise.

So why is Data still so awkward? Looking for in-universe explanations.

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    Wouldn't you be awkward if you were an emotionless android? – Ryguy Sep 22 '15 at 20:34
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    @RyanJ - I think the question is, why did his demeanour improve so dramatically in the years on the Enterprise when it hadn't done so before. – Valorum Sep 22 '15 at 20:37
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    Picard and crew were also some of the finest that Starfleet had to offer. Maybe being around such excellence helped Data excel where he hadn't before? – Ryguy Sep 22 '15 at 20:54
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    @Catija Definitely socially. Data's physical appearance is clearly non-human, but it isn't any more awkward than dozens of non-humans that serve on the Enterprise and Starfleet in general. – corsiKa Sep 22 '15 at 21:14
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    @Catija Data didn't know the word "snoop" in the first episode, so there were some odd gaps in his knowledge (that any basic dictionary could have filled) when he first arrived, so he was missing more than just the knowledge of nuanced behavior. – Xantec Sep 22 '15 at 22:14
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The following is pure supposition. Bear with me.

Friends.

A big part of socialisation is having friends who're willing to spend time with you and tell you when you're not doing it right. There's no indication that Data had any friends on his old ship. When he comes to the Enterprise, he and Geordi hit it off and bond almost immediately and, despite a few run-ins with Pulaski, he is accepted as a sentient being by his colleagues and peers, gets invited to poker games, etc.

Small talk

In TNG: Starship Mine, we see Data experimenting with a "small-talk routine", something he's evidently been working on in order to emulate humans more effectively. It's only by being around people that he's able to actually see what his own deficiencies are.

Data is really young

It's worth noting that although Data was built as an adult, in many way's he's childlike. It's not until he gets to the Enterprise that he begins to explore his sexuality, to understand humour and enters into his first romantic relationship.

Mentors

It's not hard to identify that both Riker and Picard have an enormous influence on Data, encouraging him to explore his own humanity in a wide variety of ways he had never considered before, focusing on art (painting and poetry), culture (plays and music) and philosophy to better understand the humans around him.

External influences.

A whole bunch of miscellaneous stuff happens to Data over the seven seasons of TNG, all of which contributes to his seeming more human, none of which happened in his prior years:

  • But he didn't kill. That wouldn't be heroic. – ThePopMachine Sep 22 '15 at 22:13
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    Related to the first point about friends: when Data is given command of a ship during the Klingon civil war his first officer doesn't trust him and wants to be immediately transferred. It is very possible that that is how most of his previous crews viewed and acted toward him. – Xantec Sep 22 '15 at 22:18
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    To support the third point on Data's age: chronologically Data wasn't much older than Wesley (The Schizoid Man). Most of that time was spent behaving as an adult (attending the Academy and serving in Starfleet) rather than growing as a person. He probably should have gone to school like Lal. – Xantec Sep 22 '15 at 22:22
  • Another big external influence is that Data begins to dream while on the Enterprise. – Xantec Sep 22 '15 at 22:36
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    Well-reasoned and well-evidenced supposition. +1 – Praxis Sep 22 '15 at 22:36
2

Data was 26 years old in the first season, 11 years older than Wesley, (1.733 times as old) and yet was not so humanly socially advanced as Wesley.

Obviously the writers wrote stories and scenes showing Data becoming more Human-like during his seven years during TNG, and not during his previous 26 years of activity, because scenes set before the first episode would never be seen. But we need to explain why Data suddenly made a lot more progress in his goal of understanding emotions - especially Human emotions - so comparatively late in his experience.

Theory one:

Data did not remember anything about his experiences on Omicron Theta before he was deactivated there. But it is possible that he had subconscious memories of the (mostly or all Human) colonists there and his Human creator Doctor Soong, which may have imprinted in his positronic brain a preference for dealing with Humans.

If the crew of the starship Tripoli (named after Earth cities) who found Data and reactivated him were mostly or all Human that might have also imprinted Data with an interest in Humans. Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future says that Data entered Starfleet Academy 3 years after being reactivated and graduated 7 years after being reactivated.

Data's only mentioned Starfleet assignment in the 19 years between graduation and "Encounter at Farpoint" was being on the starship Trieste (named after another Earth city) when it passed through an unstable wormhole.

So one possible theory is that Data spent most of the 26 years before "Encounter at Farpoint" in the company of highly nonhuman beings who were either highly unemotional like Vulcans or had strange emotions compared to Humans, despite being somewhat imprinted on Humans and desiring to spend more time among Humans.

In the three years between being reactivated and entering Starfleet academy Data may have examined by mostly highly nonhuman scientists at the Vulcan Science academy or at an Annex of the Daystrom Institute on a world with a highly nonhuman population.

Data may have spent part or all of his time at Starfleet Academy in a campus on Vulcan or some other highly alien world instead of the campus on Earth, or perhaps attended lectures through telepresence without interacting with Human students.

And Data may have spent most of his 19 years in Starfleet before "Encounter at Farpoint" assigned to ships and starbases with nonhuman crews where he would have little opportunity to study Human psychology. And perhaps Data spent much of his prior Starfleet career on science vessels and research outposts studying strange new worlds and civilizations.

Thus Data may have sought assignment to the Enteprise in large part because its crew was mostly Human.

Theory 2:

It is possible that Data needed to accumulate a critical mass of observations of Human behavior before he began to understand it, and that he reached the critical mass of observations during the course of TNG.

I hope that some combination of my two theories with the other theories presented here will be enough to sufficiently explain why Data suddenly began to understand Humans much better during the course of STTNG.

  • Interesting theories. The first one has little or no support in canon, however. – Xantec Sep 23 '15 at 13:50
  • Xantec - Yes my first theory has little or no support in canon. It also has little or no contraction in canon, either, at least up to the point when the second edition of Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future was published in 1996 and said that almost nothing was known about Data's Starfleet career prior to "Encounter at Farpoint". And after it was published only the movies First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis could have added anything to Data's backstory. Did any of those three movies say anything about Data's backstory? – M. A. Golding Sep 23 '15 at 21:21
  • @M.A.Golding - Actually it is contradicted in canon. In the episode where the crazy scientist lady destroys the Crystalline Entity, Data talks about his time on O T, before the Entity attacked, including playing back her son's log. – Xavon_Wrentaile Aug 2 '17 at 0:12
  • @Xavon_Wrentaile Data had logs and memories from the colonists, but his own memories were wiped. – nasch Nov 11 '17 at 3:41
  • @nasch My point was that the original post guesses that he might have had the colonists' memories. There is no guess or might, that is blatant canon. – Xavon_Wrentaile Nov 11 '17 at 15:18

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