We’ve been conditioned by books, movies, and television to have certain expectations regarding alien beings. Whether they fall into the cute and friendly category, like ET, or the bizarre and menacing catergory, like the critters from the ALIEN series or those from WAR OF THE WORLDS (the Martians, not Tom Cruise), we have it in our heads that visitors from beyond Earth will be, at minimum, interesting.
But what will you do when your close encounter finally happens and you discover that your guests are neither cuddly, benevolent star-voyagers, nor well-armed space calamari intent on turning major cities into dirty ashtrays? What if they are completely, unendurably boring?
There you are, sitting on your patio, when suddenly something large drops out of the sky onto the lawn. But instead of a dazzlingly illuminated UFO, it turns out to look more like a poorly maintained recreational vehicle, with a couple of battered satellite dishes, and an Area 51 parking pass.
Then a hatch creaks open, and just as you position your fingers in that live-long-and-prosper Vulcan greeting, one of those tiny, gray-green guys with a big head and no mouth pops out and says to you through telepathy, "We heard there was a real good outlet mall around here." And instead of fastening himself to your face and turning you into a breeding pod, or letting you goof around with his light saber, he flops down on your couch spends the next six hours watching QVC.
Finally, before he can say, "ET phone Home Shopping Club," you make your move. "Well, tomorrow’s a long day," you say, "Thanks for coming by." And you shove him out the door.
How are we to avoid any such encounters with Dearth Vacuous? Simple. What do you normally do when you want to dodge any contact with the tedious beings in your life?
You screen your calls.
We must immediately advise the people at SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence project, to wire all those antenna arrays up to a voice mail system so they can screen any interplanetary messages they might receive. That way we can get some idea of what we are dealing with before we invite anybody to beam down for coffee and donuts.
All it takes is a polite message: "We’re sorry, we can't respond your long string of binary code right now. Please leave a brief description of your culture and intentions at the beep and we'll get back to you just as soon as we can."
Then all we have to do is listen to the messages. If we find out that the hyper-intelligent crew of a sparkling star cruiser wants to teach us how to end poverty, disease, and war, and show us a simple way to fill out IRS forms, we can tell them, "C’mon down! We’re buying!"
If, on the other hand, the translated data turns out to be a request for Kenny G tickets and a DVD collection of the first season of "Joannie Loves Chachi," we know that we need to issue a global alert that for the next few days everyone should turn out the lights and pretend not to be home.
Of course, aliens have probably been watching us for some time, scanning our TV broadcasts and so on. We may have to face up to the idea that once they analyzed their data, they sent an urgent message back to their home planet to activate the voice mail and draw the curtains.
Could it be that Earth is the Planet of the Dweebs?