To cosmologists and sci-fi enthusiasts, it’s a well-known fact that we have been beaming our sometimes questionable pop culture out into the cosmos for nearly a century; but recent findings by the scientific community suggest that it might be a prudent idea to begin development of a spam shield to enrobe the Earth in a sort of force field that would suppress interstellar transmission of our crumbling tastes – or at very least, everyone needs to dial up the parental filters, keep the Bieberites away from their keyboards, and warn failing social media websites and Russian astronomers that it’s NOT a ‘cute idea’ to say ‘hey’ to our neighbors by introducing them to what our children think and listen to these days.
Oh, Justin Bieber. Twenty years from now, when you’re the President of the World and your lyrics are required reading in middle schools, we’ll wonder what happened to our culture and plain ol’ common sense. We’ll also wonder why that fleet of star cruisers closing in on Earth is so bent on cleansing our culture from the face of the Earth; but for now we can just wonder what the hell we were thinking when we beamed out 500 messages, hand-picked from your massive throng of supporters, at a nearby star.
When the space race began, scientists realized that by reaching into the cosmos, humanity was proverbially knocking on the door to borrow a cup of sugar. Wisely enough, the scientists of the time composed some messages, mostly in binary, that might be decrypted by intelligent beings. They even included some images, and music that alien beings may be busting a move to as we speak. Voyager 1, for example, contains selected pieces by Beethoven, Mozart, Stravinsky, and even Chuck Berry.
But it’s less likely that a civilized race will ever hear those pieces, and more likely that our ‘space spam’ – like the e-mail spam we all know and hate – will simply reach them randomly. We’ve known for a while now that if there are races living on planets in other solar systems, they’re probably receiving broadcasts of I Love Lucy, Hill Street Blues, M*A*S*H and Cheers, radio signals that left our atmosphere years ago and traveled great distances before arriving at a destination where sentient beings could actually recognize and decode those signals. Hell, for all we know, we’ve already pissed-off some distant race, which, due to interference from a nearby pulsar, never found out who shot J.R. Surely, that’s not our fault, but one can understand how missing an episode of The Facts of Life or Gilligan’s Island might make those three suns in the sky seem a little less bright. I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be around a Gronarg of Symbian V if he didn’t get his regular fix of Doogie Howser.
So while alien races fiercely debate which performance was better – Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian or Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall – it’s enough to know that our message is getting there, even if that message isn’t necessarily the one we should, or would prefer to, deliver. If you’ve read Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’ll understand. Think of the G’Gugvuntts and Vl’hurgs, two distant races poised on the brink of a terrible war and meeting for the last time.
It was a cute idea, at the time…
Like our everyday spam, space spam is random, and it would be nice to keep it that way. That’s why news this week from the scientific community should make us scratch our heads and ask a resounding “why?” Back in 2008, teenybopper site Bebo thought it would be a good idea to team up with Russian astronomer Alexander Zaitsev to send 500 Bebo user messages to the planet Gliese 581c, twenty light years away. As The Register reports, the chosen messages were exactly what one would expect of people who don’t know what a cassette tape is. Some examples: “Our bodies are made of bones … We have senses. Smell, Taste, Sight and Touch. Without any of these things, we wouldn’t live,” and “I love Television. We watch animated cartoons and real-life drama on it. I could sit and watch Television all day.” (By the way, has anyone else wondered how ‘Bebo’ and ‘Bieber’ are so similar? A conspiracy?) Mark your calendars: Tech Radar says the messages will reach the solar system in 2029.
So, wouldn’t you just know it? This week a new international study announced that planets in the Gliese system are the most habitable known worlds. Spam almost always has a nefarious purpose, but it doesn’t have to be intentional. In this instance, I wouldn’t blame the Gliesians for wanting to wipe us off the planet like the infestation that we are.