Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Images We Present

Since coming back from vacation, I've been spending many of my odd free moments (and yes, they tend to be very odd indeed) catching up on a lot of the blogs I enjoy, but don't have the time to read every day. One of those is Strange Maps, to which you can link from my list of recommended blogs at the left.

The July 23rd post on Strange Maps is titled, "What's on Earth Tonight?," presents a fascinating map that shows which television broadcasts from earth are reaching what points in the universe right now. Regular television broadcasting began roughly 65 years ago, and those signals are now about 65 light-years away, nearing the region of the star Aldebaran and any planets it may have.

If anyone is living in the neighborhood of Aldebaran, what are they learning from the TV signals they may receive from earth? Among other things, they're seeing the first televised presidential speech (by FDR) and the first televised baseball game. To get to the really good stuff, like episodes of Lost, Hill Street Blues, and The Twilight Zone, they'll have to wait a few more years.

But the larger question is, of course, what conclusions would scientists on Aldebaran draw about earth culture from the television signals they might intercept? Well, it sort of depends. If the signals they picked up were from The History Channel ("all World War II, all the time," in the words of one of my acquaintances who is getting her Masters degree in history), they might believe we are constantly at war...which isn't actually all that far from the truth. If they catch normal network TV broadcasts, they might think life on earth consists of nothing but high-speed car chases and wild shootouts between police and criminals, interspersed with lowbrow comedy. The Food Network? That we're obsessed with eating, if not with nutrition. The Golf Channel? They wouldn't learn anything, because it would probably put them to sleep. The Comedy Channel? I don't even want to think about it.

Alternative history writer Harry Turtledove used a variation on this idea to write a great reimagining of World War II ... in his story, aliens from deep space decided to invade the earth based on images they received from a probe which showed a warrior from the Arabian desert in the year 600. They arrived and launched their invasion in 1944 - right in the middle of World War II and facing weapons much more advanced than those they'd expected.

No particular deep thought or message today...just some reflections on an interesting topic: what would a culture that knew nothing of earth learn from watching our TV programs?

God forbid they should first see Sponge Bob Squarepants.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Mike said...

Are the aliens paying for cable? If they're not I'm turning them in.

Wv: rochand - what you have after ..... hammering a lot. Yeah, that's it, hammering.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Lucky them. Seeing quality shows for the first time.