The New Yorker ran an article yesterday by Joshua Rothman titled “The Man Who Speaks for Earth.” It’s about Douglas Vakotch’s recent anthology, Archaeology, Anthropology, and Interstellar Communication. Vakotch is the Director of Interstellar Message Composition at SETI, which means that his job is, as you can guess from his title, to compose messages sent out to the cosmos that we wish to be received by intelligent life forms on other planets.
As odd as this whole thing is, Vakotch’s comments (and those of his contributors) are brimming with commonsense: heck, we can’t even understand each other — how are we going to understand a message from an alien life form? There are no shared cultural references, and unless we discover something like a Stargate, there will be a massive lapse of time from transmission to reception.
He also asked, just what do we really want to say to an alien civilization? Mathematical concepts are probably the easiest to decipher, but the most important things we would want to say can’t be communicated with numbers.
While I can’t offer much by way of help in this area, I think I do have a pretty workable list of things I’d like to say to any alien who might want to visit Earth someday:
1. Stay off I-95 anywhere in the country.
2. Eat Oreo cookies.
3. Eat chocolate chip cookies. Especially hot, fresh ones.
4. Same with Krispy Kreme donuts when the light is on.
5. Combine 2-4 with ice cold milk.
6. Don’t eat seafood from the Gulf.
7. The Browns suck.
8. Don’t visit Texas unless you stop by D.C. and get a green card first.
9. Visit California north of Los Angeles or south of Newport Beach.
10. If you check online you can get really good rush tickets for Broadway shows.
11. Don’t eat anything that comes in a can, box, or plastic container in any grocery store in the United States.
12. French food and wine really is good.
13. You want to select one particularly strong-willed individual to try out Wendy’s french fries. Test for addiction first. No one will be able to resist the Frosty.
14. The Black Keys are touring. So is Jack White. You don’t want to miss either of these shows. Just don’t say anything to Jack about the Black Keys.
15. Summer movies are the best. Try to see anything involving aliens. You’ll think it’s a riot.
16. Seriously… was Eric Cantor one of you guys?
17. Do not eat breakfast at McDonald’s. But, do try the coffee.
18. How about Mitch McConnell? Come on, ‘fess up.
19. Hawaii is really beautiful but it’s kinda expensive. You may need to take out a loan on your ship.
20. There is nowhere to park in Toronto. Really. Just don’t bother unless you’re willing to sell your body to someone who lives in an apartment complex with guest parking.
21. We have this thing called the internet. Just… don’t. It’s mainly storage for porn and cat photos. Huge waste of time. Except for getting rush tickets.
Any further suggestions?