Timing is everything. That old saying may be a consideration for extraterrestrials debating the timing of contact with planet Earth. Timing is only a factor in First Contact if the extraterrestrials in question (and I’m not saying there actually are any extraterrestrials in question) are closely monitoring what humans are doing. This could be accomplished with some sort of probe connecting to our Internet. That may sound far-fetched, but if you, an extraterrestrial, had the technology to do such, why wouldn’t you? Monitoring human activity would allow you to know exactly what you are getting into, before you say hello.
So, back to timing. What factors might an extraterrestrial consider when deciding if and when to say hello? It seems to me that one consideration would have to be critical world events. An example is the recent negotiations in the European debt crisis. There were tense moments as the world economic community waited for word that European nations had agreed on important measures to bailout Greece and shore up the European monetary system. And there may be more tense moments to see if Greeks actually agree to the deal in an upcoming referendum. Extraterrestrials, with our best interests in mind, would probably want to avoid saying hello to humans at such important moments. The distraction caused by any First Contact, but especially a dramatic Direct First Contact event, would likely be enormous. What if European leaders were so distracted that they didn’t take the necessary measures to stabilize the European economy? Some may laugh and say that important world needs would still be important. I think that is a dangerous under estimation of the effect that Direct First Contact would have on the human civilization. There would most likely be a period of a stunned reaction that would bring most everything, except for basic functions, to a stop. Then there would be a period of intense debate over what actions to take in response to First Contact. Both of these periods would involve concentrated focus. And that means distraction and likely a very high degree of distraction, especially for world leaders. A signal discovered in space is certainly much less distracting and yet still a concern.
Distraction can of course be viewed in several other ways. Perhaps the extraterrestrials don’t have our best interest in mind at all? They could pick a critical moment to say hello in hopes of distracting us and causing harm to the planet. That seems like a rather round-about way of trying to harm humans. Creative extraterrestrials could probably come up with much more sinister ways to tear at the fabric of human civilization. It’s something that doesn’t seem likely if First Contact ever occurs, but certainly an idea that must be considered.
And then there is the beneficial distraction. Perhaps First Contact would be powerful enough to stimulate the world economy and help lift us out of global recession? It could take away attention from differences between nations and join us closer together. First Contact could be excellent motivation for global cooperation.
How long humans would remain distracted would depend on the type of First Contact and the actual nature of the events involved in that contact. Dramatic events would probably have a more distracting effect than a series of less dramatic events. You would imagine First Contact distraction would have an initial peak of effect, dissipating over time in strength. The toughest part of distraction is that when it’s occurring virtually no one is considering the impact- they’re simply distracted. Keeping a watchful eye on old worries and needful realities, in any First Contact situation, would seem prudent. Now let’s just hope that the Greeks can stay focused.