A few days ago, I was bound and gagged by a peculiarly witty human who forced me to watch "Contact," starring Jodie Foster.
If this strangely slow-moving opus has passed you by, Foster plays a woman whose lifelong dream is to sit down with an alien being and have a chinwag over a large latte. Well, more or less.
So it was with the spirit of space discovery forcing my lips to hum that I read Monday that the founder of SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) declared that it wasn't just me who was gagged, but the whole Earth.
The Press Association's human recorders described Frank Drake's greatest fear at a conference of the Royal Society in London. This fear was not that some chinless Brit would refer to him as "Sir Francis." Rather, it was his belief that all this newfangled technological beaming that we're fond of on our imperfect soil is destroying our chances of fulfilling Jodie Foster's dream.
Analog TV, radar, and good old radio used to send signals far and wide. But digital signals are another form of matter altogether. As the analog signals fade, digital ones are not only weaker but also are pointed toward Earth rather than to outer space.
Drake believes that to any alien race, our new advanced methods of signaling will amount to nothing more than noise.
I wonder. Drake makes an assumption that so many future-forward boffins make. They seem to believe that any life that might be out there will undoubtedly be more intelligent than our good selves. It is understandable. We do have a tendency to be quite staggeringly stupid, myopic, brain dead, self-centered, animalistic, and self-destructive.
But what if we are as good as it gets? What if all the alien life out there makes a box of rocks seem like Stephen Hawking?
What if aliens are, indeed, watching our every move on old analog TV sets? What if they worship statues of Kim Kardashian? What if whole alien cities hold seminars to discuss how they can reconstruct their civic paradigm to be more like that of "Jersey Shore?" What if they eat potatoes raw and unpeeled? What if they eat dog kabobs?
There is something so painfully wishful about life out there being better than life down here. What if it isn't? Might we one day be grateful that our digital signals have cut us off from the great beyond?