Friday, May 15, 2009

The Impact of First Contact on One Family

I’ve talked about the idea of the great schism that would occur after the revelation of First Contact. For some people: scientists, politicians, religious leaders; there would be great changes that they would have to face immediately. Entire scientific fields would undergo earthquake-like shifts. For others the impact would be less immediate. The challenges faced could make the world a very chaotic place for quite some time. But how would First Contact change the lives of an average family?

Let’s use an American family as an example. Dad works as an insurance agent and mom operates a business that provides clients with custom made internet newsletters. The two kids go to school at the local middle school. First Contact interrupts their Friday night plans, as the son points out that something really strange is happening on CNN. They join the millions already watching as the process of revelation unfolds.

If you haven’t read the First Contact proposal yet, linked on the right hand side of the screen, I’ll give a basic summary of how it could go down. The lead-off is a dramatic visual event that will instantly capture the attention of the news media. An extraterrestrial craft slowly flying over a mid-size American city could accomplish this quickly. The craft would land and a process would unfold, using a series of flights to disprove the hoax. The flights would of course attract more and more attention. The goal is to have the extraterrestrial craft perform maneuvers that could not be accomplished by current human technology. You could guarantee an audience of millions within an hour or so of the initial flight. It would run into the hundreds of millions soon after. By the time our fictional family gets a clue there is worldwide television coverage with an audience of more than a billion.

The family will watch into the night in wonder. It will also be a brief moment of quiet, as the world is literally too stunned to react. How long will this relative peace last? It’s hard to say. It could be a day or two or perhaps up to a week. The world will watch each development unfold for a time, but then religious and political forces will shake off the surprise and react.

For our family that first weekend of First Contact is spent in front of the TV. It will be a process unlike anything ever seen in human history. The entire planet, joined by broadcast media, will be watching. The world-wide audience would most likely exceed any event in history. The Princess Diana funeral live coverage is estimated as the biggest world-wide television audience in history at 2.5 billion. Given the access people have to television these days, even in the most remote locations thanks to home satellite systems, you could imagine the world-wide audience for First Contact could be a substantial part of the world population currently at 6.8 billion. This first weekend may take on an air of celebration. You could expect spontaneous events as humans look for ways to process the information.

So what happens Monday morning?

The First Contact process is still being worked out. Negotiations are taking place for an address to the United Nations. TV coverage is probably still nearly continuous. What does our fictional family do? Does mom head back to the computer to run her business? Does dad go to work? Is there school for the kids? It may be important to return to these realities as quickly as possible. Many people: cops, firefighters, nurses; will already be back on the job. The world might be stunned by the revelation, but reality still takes precedence. There will be car accidents, fires, and heart attacks. People will need to buy groceries, order pizza or hit the liquor store. People will probably still be watching TV very closely, but they will have to return to some sense of normalcy. It will feel at times like the ground is shifting under our feet. We are taking on a new perspective of the world and while so many things are changing we may look forward to the things that stay the same: breakfast with the kids, the commute to work, coffee with your co-workers. Of course that coffee conversation has a new topic and perhaps this is another reason people will want to seek out normalcy: to share impressions of First Contact with a wider set of friends and colleagues.

Our insurance guy will find that it’s tough to get anything done those first couple of days. Who wants to talk insurance when the entire universe is changing? Quickly though people will begin to contemplate what First Contact means for their business. Perhaps they will consider abandoning one product line to pursue another? Opportunities will present themselves and some areas will look like dead ends. How quickly does the business world react? Pretty quickly. It seems likely that many countries will consider a suspension of financial trading in the days immediately following First Contact. But the business world will need to sort this out. Does the investor move all of their holdings into aerospace industries? Do they jettison stocks in oil and other fossil fuels? Nothing has happened yet that will change anything about our technology or energy use, but investors will want to do what they do best: look ahead and try to figure out what will happen next. This means incredible market volatility. This will be the first impact for our insurance guy. Since insurance is ultimately tied to the financial markets he will find it hard to keep up with the changes at work.

Mom may see just the opposite with her internet business. Does anyone really care about web newsletters right now? She’s left contemplating the future of her business. Maybe she looks for a way to advocate for the increased need for e-commerce and communication? A lot of small businesses will be in the same boat: are they relevant after First Contact?

The kids head back to school and find the teachers in a quandary. History is unfolding each hour on television. How can they compete with current events? At first the classes simply watch television and talk about what is happening. Science teachers see an immediate need to explain the astronomical facts of the extraterrestrial visitors. Perhaps other teachers take a cue from this and start to explain how history, social studies, and political science will all be impacted by First Contact. The better schools will attempt to bring context to First Contact for the students. The poorer schools will simply let the kids watch TV.

Let’s say our fictional family is devoutly Catholic. You would expect the Pope to make a comment within the first week. The Vatican has already made some preliminary attempts to work the possibility of extraterrestrial life into the greater kingdom of God. It seems likely that they will be among the first to embrace First Contact as part of God’s larger plan and thus work extraterrestrials into their religion. Not all religious leaders will react this way. In some places, especially among fundamentalists, there will be a backlash. They might say that this visitation is satanic and the result of secular forces collaborating with extraterrestrials. If First Contact takes place in the United States this will almost certainly be the reaction in some circles. Within a few days the outrage will lead to protests, riots and perhaps government instability. The countries most vulnerable would be the ones most vulnerable to fundamentalist forces today. Some of these countries may have access to nuclear weapons. Suddenly the aliens won’t be the biggest potential threat. The larger world powers will be on heightened military alert. This process will pick-up steam until it finds a natural outlet.

The only hope for political stability is change. While fundamentalists will react in the same way they have always reacted, the First Contact process will be unlike anything they have seen. If extraterrestrials make a first address to the United Nations once again everyone will be stunned. Protests may stop for a while. Zealots will have to be quiet and simply watch. If a new type of technology is announced it could lead to a complete transformation in the field of physics. These revelations may eventually make the fundamentalists seem irrelevant. It’s like a fire: the best way to kill the fire is to suck the air out. Perhaps all of the change will make zealots seem out of touch.

World perception is the key. How do people feel about having new universal neighbors? Is it exciting or frightening? Does it build hope for a new future or fear of what will happen to our civilization? This is why First Contact is so important. It must show hope. It must be a welcome for all people, of all backgrounds, from all nations. The political and religious forces that shape our current world will come to bear after First Contact, but if humanity quickly moves on to new ideas and thoughts of a new future, the air can be sucked out of the negative reactions and we might have peace.

Our fictional family will face plenty of challenges. It is inevitable that they will live in a time of immense change, often chaotic. They need to understand that there is a larger goal. How they respond, how the entire world responds to First Contact, will set the trend for generations to come. A new relationship with the universe can lead to exciting things for humanity, but we will have to work hard to get there.

First Contact Extraterrestrial Alien Proposal Idea Hello Introduction Space Visitors

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