In the 22nd century, there wasn't any paper-based technology on board USS Enterprise NX-01. Tablets were everywhere. Even for reporting, analyses were filed digitally. They even had a Microsoft Surface-type technology for group brainstorming.

However, in the 23rd century, on board USS Enterprise NCC-1701, they made tremendous use of paper-based technology. Even signals were printed on paper slowly like fax machines.

Why did Starfleet/the Federation degrade the level of technology in the future? Is there any canonical explanation?

  • 23
    Because when TOS was filmed, they couldn't imagine the tech we have now.
    – Kevin
    Mar 20, 2012 at 21:04
  • 6
    Yes. Some areas of technology are easier to dream up than others.
    – Kevin
    Mar 20, 2012 at 21:30
  • 6
    In an era where the most modern computers were the size of one or two whole server racks today, and data storage units were as large as refrigerators, I'd say yes. We have no real analog by which to compare FTL speed and teleportation technologies, so it's rather easy for us to fantasize about these to great extremes. But, if you were to ask someone from even the '80s to imagine an entire computer and telephone in the palm of their hands, you'd probably just get a blank stare.
    – Iszi
    Mar 20, 2012 at 21:42
  • 3
    Because retro is cool.
    – Xantec
    Mar 20, 2012 at 21:48
  • 2
    Having read this question today, of course, I see this image not more than 1/2 an hour later...
    – K-H-W
    Mar 21, 2012 at 7:16

3 Answers 3


Unfortunately, I doubt you'll find an in-universe explanation. The only answer I can think of (and @Kevin has also expressed) is that it would have been very difficult for the writers of the mid-late '60s to have imagined the technology that we have today. Even in the late '80s to early '90s, when STNG was in production, hand-held Personal Access Data Display devices similar to the tablets (Does anyone else think it's not a coincidence that one is called the i*Pad*?) we have today were science fiction fantasies.

I believe it is much easier for us to imagine things for which we have little or no comparable analogue in reality. Faster-than-light travel and teleportation are two good examples you've given. However, consider what the state of computing technology was in the mid-late sixties. Computers were still far from commonplace, and not at all accessible to the common home. Even the most modern machines were still as big as a minivan or larger, and mass storage units were the size of refrigerators. The few cell phones that existed at the time had to be supported by suitcase-sized base stations. So, imagine traveling back to that time and convincing someone there that some day you'd be able to carry a minivan, refrigerator, and a suitcase all in the palm of your hand!

The science fiction TV writers of the '60s could hardly have imagined that we would eventually have hand-held devices that have so much more capability, power, and storage - let alone that it would be achieved in just a matter of decades. Even in the '80s, Orson Scott Card was far ahead of his time when he wrote about things like advanced hand-held gaming devices, hand-held computers, a world-wide computer network, and social media.

In making a prequel to a work of futuristic science fiction, especially when it's being made decades after the original, and especially after the technological revolution we've been in during that time, it's inevitable that some things in the prequel are going to be incongruous to existing canon. Despite the obvious conflicts this would create, the purpose of this is still for believability.

In the 1960's it was very believable that the people of the future would still be working largely with paper documents. Today, it would be absolutely ridiculous to propose such a thing. The writers of Enterprise simply had to make some adjustments to suit a more modern audience.

  • 4
    On the other hand, in the first season episode "Court Martial", Kirk's attorney Samuel T. Cogley is seen as unusual for his love of printed books. Kirk's comment is that "a computer takes up less room". So the writers' level of imagination wasn't 100% consistent (not a criticism; that's to be expected). Mar 20, 2012 at 22:48
  • @KeithThompson It's probable that Roddenberry conceived a computer of their time would have taken up less room than an entire library, as Cogley may have had. However, it's also likely that he still did not expect technology to become such that a hand-held device would be capable of storing and displaying even a single book's data. Perhaps the data density of magnetic media might have gotten that far, but the mechanisms needed to write, read, and display that data may have not.
    – Iszi
    Mar 20, 2012 at 22:52
  • @Iszi You've underestimated Gene so much. Haven't you seen on-board computers which were small? Plus, everyone was able to think that tech upgrades always take care of difficulties attached with it.. Portability was easy to think..
    – user931
    Mar 20, 2012 at 23:23

In TOS, we see very limited use of printouts. McCoy's dietary instructions are handed over on disk. The Clipboards are tablet computers (and their display kept off-screen, mostly). We know that Scotty's tech journals are all ebooks - he reads them on-screen. Khan reads books on the screen by his bed.

Searching for the words paper, printout, and print out in the transcripts...

Conscience of the King: this is the only episode where we see an actual paper document referenced as paper.
City on the Edge of Forever, Assignment Earth: they're in the 20th Century at that point in both episodes.
The Apple, The Deadly Years: retained idiomatic expressions. "chair-bound paper-pusher" and "fly in fly-paper" are seen.
A Piece of the Action:

Printout: only in an episode of TAS.

  • 1
    Looks like you haven't gone thru all comments on question.. In The Cage, many usage of paper can be seen (like submitting reports, signal print-out). Even one scene can raise this question..
    – user931
    Mar 21, 2012 at 23:04
  • @SachinShekhar: although that is just the first pilot. Did the rest of the series feature paper more? Feb 1, 2013 at 15:11
  • @PaulD.Waite No. But, Kirk appeared 13 years later which is enough time to improve tech.. :) One episode can raise this question.
    – user931
    Feb 1, 2013 at 18:34
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    @SachinShekhar: ah, okay. If it is just The Cage that features paper, you might want to edit the question to reflect that. Feb 1, 2013 at 19:45
  • 5
    The Cage wasn't an episode, tho'. It was a failed pilot. The only portions of The Cage that really can be counted are those that made it into The Menagerie.
    – aramis
    Feb 2, 2013 at 23:41

One of the reasons fax machines and paper are still used today, is because there are a lot of things that aren't "legal" without a physical signature, comprising someone putting pen to paper. A decent in-universe explanation for all the paper in TOS that wasn't in ENT could be as simple as someone losing a very expensive lawsuit, for lacking a physical signature in the right place.

  • Means, they dropped this physical signature ju-ju in 22nd century & then adopted again in 23rd century?
    – user931
    Jun 16, 2013 at 2:54
  • 1
    Could have been a case someone lost at the end of the 22nd by not having a signed hard copy of something
    – Amanda
    Jul 13, 2013 at 1:04

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