Has the internet snuffed out aliens?
Awhile back, I did a post on UFOs – not because I believe in them but because I had been reading a lot of stuff on Neil Armstrong and NASA. And I started to think about whether astronauts had ever had a close encounter and what had happened to Kenneth Arnold, the dude who first reported spotting UFOs way back in 1947. So I did a post that was largely tongue-in-cheek – asking things like why aliens have such unusual names and why they seem to wander aimlessly in the desert.
What I didn’t expect was the reaction to that post – over 5,000 hits in the course of a few days, but more surprising was the email reaction and some of the comments left. One email that stood out was from someone in the US who says he is a Raelian – 14th generation to be exact. Now I may not believe all the stuff I was told, but I respect everyone’s right to an opinion and I looked up every book or link that people sent me.
The reaction prompted some further thinking. I cast my mind back to the Jurassic Park era when I was growing up (pre-fall of Berlin Wall, I’ll reveal that much). I remember kids in my high-school obssessed, as I was, with Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica reruns on TV; we had “launch parties”, whenever a space shuttle took off or landed (hey, remember this was pre-internet, iPods and other exciting stuff). Then in the early 1990s, it was all about The X-Files and the delectable David Duchovny (the thinking woman’s sex-symbol). Along came the internet and somehow over the last 10 or so years, it seems to me we have been sidetracked by matters less extra-terrestrial.
A space shuttle launch these days produces a stifled yawn; NASA’s talk of aiming for Mars falls on less excited ears; a TV show about alien autopsies barely rates against reality TV drivel; aliens appear to have become lost in space.
So this had me thinking: why do we no longer seem to be interested in whether or not aliens are amongst us? Why are kids these days more interested in becoming the next singing idol than they are in watching Star Trek: Enterprise? I didn’t have to ponder this for too long because my RSS feeds delivered a very interesting article in the New Statesmen, which talks about how in the age of the internet and instant communications, aliens have become irrelevant. Gasp! Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security has been really successful in keeping out immigrants :)-
Anyway, the US used to account for about 99% of all UFO sightings (what are they drinking over there?) but now there’s barely a sighting reported these days. One interesting theory is that there is an exact parallel between the rise in the use of the internet and the fall in UFO sightings. Pre-internet (and I struggle to remember what it was like), I guess there was more time available to spend staring at the heavens and we’ve swapped this for staring at a blinking computer screen. But the article also talks about another far more intriguing theory: “…. aliens are a projection of our inner irrationalities, anxieties and fears. The spaceships arrived as a cultural device for making sense of things incomprehensible to ordinary folks. Now we have a new, all-encompassing tool. So, instead of projecting our fears of the inexplicable on to outer space, we project them into cyberspace“.
The flurry of UFO sightings of course occurred during the heady days of early space travel and against the backdrop of the Cold War. You just never knew what those pesky Russkies were up to – would they beat the US to the Moon? Had they come across a crashed alien craft and exploited alien technology for their Sputnik programme? It was all a lot of space bluff really, but these were our cultural references in the 1950s and 1960s – Russia, spies, space race, secret squirrel stuff. And so our anxieties over the then Soviet Union, for example, manifested as spaceships zooming around the sky or projecting bright mysterious beams onto houses and sucking up kids and parents to conduct medical experiments on. The rise of science eclipsed earlier times when religious beliefs functioned as cultural reference points and led to miraculous sightings of the Virgin Mary or burning of witches. Strange experiences could be explained in terms of science, UFOs, aliens, alien abductions etc and so the apparitions of the Virgin Mary or the spectre of witches was replaced.
And so the decline of UFO sightings can be explained by viewing the Internet and instant communications as our new cultural reference point. As the article says: “People seek to explain the inexplicable through the internet – by developing virtual communities, in chat rooms, through exploring virtual worlds and playing games where they can actually take on the persona of visiting aliens. With the internet, we have become self-absorbed and inward-looking. UFOs have become irrelevant“.
Even Steven Spielberg is pondering why there are less alien sightings at a time when pretty swish technology could easily record First Contact. As Spielberg says: ““There are millions of video cameras out there and they’re picking up less videos of UFOs, alleged UFOs, than we picked up in the 1970s and 1980s. There’s 150 per cent more cameras, so why are we getting less from up there?“
Really, maybe there’s just not anything particularly alluring for aliens anymore. Maybe an atmosphere thick with pollution causes a UFO to go into a gyrating free fall; maybe we’ve scared them off with reality show drivel, which causes them to think that humans are a pretty trashy, idiotic bunch. But then again, maybe the aliens are a pretty clever lot and have disappeared into cyberspace – a cunning ploy intended to put humans off their guard. And of course, there’s the theory that the internet is based on alien technology – since the internet’s origins lay with Arpanet developed by the US Department of Defense – the theory goes that military types found high-tech stuff on crashed spacecraft and turned it into the internet. Doesn’t work for me though. I’m sure any aliens would have far more advanced technology. We’re also busy using the internet to contact aliens (now, this would assume that any extra-terrestrials out there actually bothered to get a connection to the internet to hear what we’re communicating!).
I sure miss the “good old days” (you know you’re getting old when you mutter this phrase). The time when there was no internet and you watched an episode of Star Trek (can’t beat the original) on a Sunday night and you spooked yourself by wondering if maybe, just maybe, some aliens were staring at you through your living room window, ready to whisk you away to their world of two moons and a red sky.
UPDATE: two readers from the US have emailed me a link and an amusing comment. A comment from Bob – ” They came looking for intelligent life. Stopped at the White House and decided there was none.” LOL. And from Donna – a link to a photo of Bush with an alien appearing in the window behind him. Thanks Rob and Donna!