Scientific teleportation (versus magical or spiritual) has had a grip on sci-fi fans since the late 1800s. It became a mainstay in popular culture the moment Captain Kirk first uttered, “Beam me up, Scotty” and we watched as William Shatner disappear from a hostile planet and materialize back in the USS Enterprise.
Well on our way to driverless cars, invisibility cloaks, and artificial intelligence, teleportation doesn’t seem so futuristically unlikely.
We’ve all had enough crosstown lovers to know that geography is destiny. There’s nothing worse than leaving a warm place to face a 40-minute plus commute–or a very expensive Uber. Even if lacking a long distance flirtation, the ordeal of a crowded city commute is enough to want to confine yourself to a strict 10 block radius, or at the very least annex a part of the city, its people, its parties, and its jobs as out-of-bounds.
As a resident of the Upper West Side of New York City, I have an entire universe of great neighborhoods available, thanks to the neighborhood’s well-networked subway system. But transportation between my neighborhood and the Lower East Side remains abominable.
Which is exactly what brings us to consider the possibility of installing a teleportation device between the Upper West Side and the Lower East within the Mermaid Inn’s sister restaurants, located in each respective neighborhood.
Now, you may be wondering–why the Mermaid Inn? Why not Juice Press or the Meatball Shop? Both of them have sister locations in each respective neighborhood. To that I say: Who wants to teleport from a Meatball Shop? You might start overthinking the whole process of scrambling up your atoms and reshaping them downtown.
The Mermaid Inns are the perfect places to teleport between because the restaurant chain has an app, which means they’re already tech savvy. Also, they have great happy hour specials, free pudding, and give out plastic fish that will tell you how you’re feeling. The last time I was at the Mermaid Inn, I was feeling fickle, mostly because I couldn’t decide whether or not to go downtown or stay uptown. If the Mermaid Inn had a teleportation device, I might not be so fickle.
A quick Google query will reveal that strides in the teleportation field have not yet overtaken physical matter. Recently, scientists have made progress in quantum teleportation, a process by which a photon in one place takes on the attributes of a photon in another place, through a process of entanglement that involves a third photon. It has the potential to transmit so much information that today’s binary internet will look totally analog, but quantum teleportation won’t help anyone get from Point A to Point B without changing out of house clothes.
In Spring of 2016, the quantum science community broke out in some controversy over the logical impossibility of teleportation transporters. YouTube educator and podcaster, C.P.G. Grey, released a video essentially calling Star Trek’s fictionalized teleportation transporters “suicide booths.” His argument is that teleportation would entail a complete breakdown of cells for re-assemblage at a different location. While the cells may retain their former shape, structure, patterns and memories–one has to confront the metaphysical conundrum of whether a teleported person becomes just a copy of the person they once were.
In less than a week, MinutePhysics, a physics-focused YouTube channel created by Henry Reich, offered a swift rebuttal: Teleportation devices may be “suicide booths,” but it’s because of the “no cloning theorem” and not metaphysical squeamishness. The no cloning theorem states that it’s impossible to create an identical copy of an unknown quantum state. In other words, in order to duplicate a quantum state, the original must be destroyed.
While this might sound like doomsday for plans to open a teleportal at the Mermaid Inn, all hope is not lost. Futurist Michio Kaku of City University believes we could have this technology by the next century–maybe even in decades. His reasoning is based less in fact, and more in the afore noted observation that many fictional technologies that science has deemed impossible have turned out to be achievable.
“You know the expression ‘beam me up, Scotty,’ we used to laugh at it. We physicists used to laugh when someone talked about teleportation and invisibility, something like that, but we don’t laugh anymore; we realized we were wrong on this one.”
Most quantum scientists, however, believe that the process used to teleport an atom would not have positive effects on living matter. Although the body is composed of atoms, teleporting it via quantum mechanics would entail breaking down the human body into individual atoms, sending them through the entanglement process, then bringing them to the new location. Even if the end result didn’t resemble a plate at the Meatball Shop, it could take quadrillions of years–which actually makes 40 minutes riding the B train through the rat-infested stop at Grand Street sound pretty leisurely.
But let’s say Kaku is right: We’re capable of more than we think. With every new technology, we must evaluate the long-term socioeconomic impacts. Global urbanization is already marshaling 53 percent of the world’s population into urban areas. Cities and their populations are more numerous, and thanks to the internet, we’re more networked than ever with others in urban centers. As cities grow, gentrification and cultural dispersion within the city limits tend to be the consequences of new or renewed transportation systems.
It’s unclear how much a direct teleportation channel would change the culture of either neighborhood. Presently, the Upper West Side is predominantly white, while–despite recent gentrification–the Lower East Side remains more diverse, with a large Asian population. The Lower East Side’s gritty reputation has given way to trendy restaurants and boutiques, while the Upper West Side has gone from a gay neighborhood during the AIDS crisis to a family-oriented enclave.
A teleportation device promising instantaneous connection between the Lower East Side and the Upper West Side might have a homogenizing effect, out of which could emerge a shared culture, inclusive of certain aspects of both neighborhoods but lacking certain peculiarities that presently divide the two. One could see LES’ youthful, wayward swagger overtaken by a migration of older, more established visitors, while the Upper West Side’s tight-knit community might fracture due to the influx of newcomers. In effect, the impact of teleportation on urban life might not just make us copies of ourselves, but it could make our neighborhoods copies of each other.
And yet, the presence of the Mermaid Inn in both neighborhoods already transports us. We can expect the same happy hour specials, the same oyster selection, and the same little cups of free pudding at the end of the meal. If teleportation comes for us one day, we will have to confront questions of authenticity and originality, both within our neighborhoods and within ourselves.