As the Millennium approaches, dozens of organizations are vying for the honour of being "the first to transmit humanity's message into space." While SETI scientists scramble to articulate reasons for not transmitting, I think it's easier to ask, "what reasons are there for transmitting messages?"
From what I can see from having talked to people who have paid to have messages sent, researched relevant literature and having observed recent trends in society, the problem partly stems from a widespread belief held by many that just beaming any signal out into space will guarantee that it will fall on ears (of some description) - period. Sounds easy, doesn't it!
This is the first step in a race where everyone and anyone with something to say, preach, learn, gain or looking for a new 'pool' to convert/sell to (yes, sell to) etc wants to be first to make contact with their message (or 'ad'). Obviously, they think, being first would carry huge weight with the aliens. THEY would be the ambassadors for Earth! They would speak for Earth!
At this stage we have quite a few 'groups' which want in on the whole thing. Their potential messages seem to range from simple a 'Hello' to complex mathematical and scientific messages. In between we have the possibility for calls for (check the 'net - there's plenty of them!) Elvis to come back, Mr Spock to make an appearance and quite a few messages with religious content - a new race to convert!
Watch this space - it's just the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, all this is happening because we don't have one strong, fair and impartial voice speaking for the planet.
The second problem we face is that, at the moment, there is much opposition to any one person or body doing the speaking. I suppose that one reason for this is that by having many messages sent by many groups we feel that the overall message content will be more democratic and fairer - although I fail to see why. If the UN (or other organization) proposed a message I'm sure that as many opinions and views would be sought and listened to a possible. Which do we have most control over - a message sent by the UN or by UFOs'r'us! Personally, I don't have a problem with one body speaking for Earth, as long as there is a fair opportunity for debate. It is my belief that most of the oppositions to the one voice approach are based on paranoia raised by the idea of government cover-ups, Roswell saucers and X-files.
Finally, the content of the message is a vital point. Many criticisms were made of the Voyager record being a sanitized message composed of half-truths and the cosmic equivalent of brushing our problems under the carpet. Do we send a message that shows us, flaws and all? Do we include information on our wars, crime problems, famine? Is this the best way to introduce ourselves? An area for a lot of debate, I'm sure!
The era of active SETI is now well and truly here. Perhaps another pimple of the face of the technological adolescent Human race. Like it or not, it's something we'll have to deal with, and sooner rather than later.
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this page last updated 4 January 2003
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