In 1977, a 12-inch golden record was placed on board the Voyager 1 probe and shot into space. The record contained Earth sounds, like a child’s laughter, and Earth images, like a guy eating a sandwich, to give distant space travelers a glimpse into our world. A message from President Jimmy Carter was also included that read:
“This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope, our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.”
A beautiful, perfect sentiment. But what if… what if I shot my own collection of Earth relics and a longer, more detailed sentiment into space in the other direction? Seems to me that would double our chances of making contact with an alien race. And what if my longer, more detailed sentiment went a little something like this?
Please enjoy this gallon sized ziplock bag full of Earth’s greatest achievements. They represent the pinnacle of the planet’s artistic, technological, and culinary output. The gifts contained within this ziplock bag, and the bag itself, are yours to keep. We hope the contents give you an impression of the human race’s accomplishments from our brief, precious moment of existence, and bring you as much joy as they have brought us. The gallon sized ziplock bag includes:
Korn’s first album on compact disc, our greatest artistic achievement. Music is an art of sound in time that expresses ideas and emotions through the elements of rhythm, melody, and harmony. When you add the elements of slap-bass, bagpipes, and scat vocals, that’s Korn. Korn was, and remains to this day, the most influential band on Earth. It is generally understood that when someone is talking about the concept of “music,” this is shorthand for “the collected works of Korn.” If I had to pick a single song to help you understand why music is so important to the human race… god, it’s nearly impossible. I mean, you have to go with Blind, right? First track, first single, it really put them on the map.
You might not believe this, but I was lucky enough to meet the legendary members of Korn during my short time on Earth. Or, most of them. When a band released a new album, there was a custom on this planet in which the band members would sit at folding tables in a music dispensary and write their names on the cover of the album. This was known as an “album signing.” One particular album signing took place at the Menlo Park Mall in Menlo Park, New Jersey to celebrate the release of Korn’s third album, Follow the Leader. I waited in line for hours, surrounded by thousands of my teenage peers, all of us wearing black t-shirts and ball chain necklaces, staring at the ground, our hands stuffed in the pockets of our psychotically large jeans. The line moved forward an inch, signaling to those of us a hundred miles back that Korn had arrived, and were holding court. Gods among young white alts.
But suddenly, murmuring ahead. A young woman, the first in line, mascara streaming down her face, exploded out of the Sam Goody and delivered news to the throngs of Korn fans smoking cigarettes and leaning against the brick wall outside of the store. “Jonathan’s not here!” she cried. My god.
I understand that you’re aliens, but allow me to convey the gravity of this statement. Imagine that you were waiting in line to meet the cast of Alf. You guys know Alf, right? So you’re waiting in line, and you’ve already paid your twenty space currencies to meet the cast of Alf. You get to the front of the line and there they are, sitting at their folding tables. There’s Willie, Kate, Lynn, Brian, the neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Ochmonek, but wait a minute. Wait one goddamn second – no Alf. You’re happy, even star struck to see everyone else, sure. But Alf. Alf spoke to you. When he tried to eat that cat week after week, the fabric of time and space melted away until there was nothing. Just you and Alf, eyes locked, floating in the infinite emptiness, forever.
The missing Jonathan, Jonathan Davis, was the lead singer of Korn. And he wasn’t at the album signing. Later I learned that his grandfather died that day, but at the time this information was not conveyed to me, nor my new friends donning chain wallets so long that they touched the ground. I wasn’t going to let this ruin my experience though. When would I have the opportunity to stand near 80% of Korn again? When I reached the front of the line and handed my album cover to David, the drummer, I steeled myself and tried to say something, anything, to express my thanks for his service. “Hi,” I chirped, and watched my album cover slide down the assembly line to Munky. Before I could process what was happening the album cover was now being signed by Fieldy, and ok wow now it was sitting in front of its final destination – 7 string guitar aficionado, Head. “Th-thanks Head,” I kind of said, and he nodded at me. The entire experience lasted 20 seconds, then my parents drove me home.
However, this event did not sour my love of Korn, the most important band in the history of the human race. Was I upset when I read that Jonathan made an appearance at the album signing at the Virgin Mega Store in New York City later that evening? A mere 40 miles away? Who can say. And what would I have said to him? Based on my behavior in front of the rest of the band, I probably would have pointed at Jonathan, said “Jonathan,” and then shit my pants. My alien friends, please do not let this anecdote detract from the cultural impact that Korn scatted across this beautiful blue marble that I call home.
Next, please enjoy our greatest technological achievement: a USB thumb drive with a cracked version of Microsoft Encarta from 1996 on it. This small vessel houses the entirety of our recorded history (up to 1996) and I’m assuming you’ll be able to read every encyclopedia entry and watch every postage stamp sized video in seconds. Because you’re aliens. Hopefully with ports in the back of your skulls, and dongles that will accept USB.
Technology on Earth peaked with CD-ROM encyclopedias. We never created an interconnected global computer network that utilized standardized communication protocols. A so-called “internet.” What would we need that for? We would just load up Encarta, type in “Reggie Jackson,” see a picture of Reggie Jackson, and then go to sleep.
But let’s say, hypothetically, some earthly madman created an “internet.” And nearly every member of the human race carried a computer in their pocket that could access said internet. It would probably be cool at first. You could be sitting on a train and type “Reggie Jackson” on your pocket computer and see a picture of Reggie Jackson. There he is. But other people are also looking at the picture, and they believe that he is an illuminati lizard man wearing a Reggie Jackson skin suit, and must be destroyed. You would be flustered by this. “I think baseball hall-of-famer Reggie Jackson is a real human being, love that Mr. October LOL,” you’d type underneath the picture. 30 seconds later, the words “I am going to fucking kill you” would display on your device, from a person that you’ve never met, who goes by the name Lizard Truth Patriot. A small picture of a man wearing a baseball cap and wraparound sunglasses appears next to their comment, and he’s standing in front of a pile of guns. And since the internet never existed, these words won’t make sense to you or me, but this fellow has 150,000 YouTube followers.
Why would we live in this fabricated scenario when we could just pop open our CD-ROM drives, load up Riven: The Sequel to MYST, and clack away on the family computer in the den for an hour on a Sunday afternoon? “Hah! What the-?” we’d exclaim as an anthropomorphic paper clip taught us how to copy and paste. What more would we need? Definitely not an internet. This thing that would eventually poison all of our brains, but also supply up-to-the-minute weather forecasts. Why risk it when you could send a self addressed stamped envelope to the National Weather Service, and in 10-14 days receive a CD-ROM in the mail containing last week’s weather forecast?
OK, you know what? I’m lying. We did create an interconnected global computer network that utilizes standardized communication protocols. We did create the internet, and it does supply up-to-the-minute weather forecasts, and it was cool at first. But now it’s poisoning our brains. The promise of an online world without boundaries, without judgment, where your thoughts could be shared with everyone on Earth if you knew a little HTML was too great for us. You could blame a lot of things (capitalism) for its downfall (it was capitalism) but in the end, I like to blame capitalism.
Finally, our greatest culinary achievement. I have one final gift for you, my esteemed travelers, and it’s a real treat – three packets of shrimp flavored instant ramen noodle soup. Just boil some water, add the contents of the packet into the water, stir, and prepare your tasting port for the Earthly delicacy known as “dissolved shrimp dust.” It’s presumptuous of me to assume you have tasting ports. If you’re pure beams of light or something, I’m afraid this gift will be lost on you, and for that you have my apologies.
For the sake of this exercise, I’m going to assume that you consumed and processed the shrimp flavored instant ramen noodle soup. It’s not very good, right? I’m going to level with you, shrimp is the worst instant ramen flavor. But I’ve got a basement full of it because we’re living through a pandemic at the moment, and for a while it was hard to find food at the food dispensary. No one willingly buys a 24 pack of shrimp flavored ramen when the chicken or chili flavors exist. That’s why these bad boys were still available at the local supermarket, and are now subsequently gathering dust in my basement. Things never got so bad that I had to actually eat the shrimp ramen, but I gotta move this stuff, and Halloween was canceled last year.
Admittedly, the pandemic has been a low point in human history. Some would say it’s the shrimp flavored instant ramen of eras. Could we choke it down? Sure. But just over the horizon, we see the promise of superior instant ramen flavors. Their silver packets, overflowing with palatable flavor dust, serve as a shining beacon for what could be. That’s the power of the human spirit. The world serves us bowl after bowl of bad soup, but deep down we know that if we could all just rise up and agree that shrimp is an inferior ramen flavor, we could eat shrimp the way it was meant to be served: fried, coconuted, or served with a side of cocktail sauce. Universal basic shrimp for anyone that’s hungry for it. Someday we’ll get there. And I hope we do before this message reaches you.
So. Aliens. If you receive this message and the gallon sized ziplock bag filled with a Korn CD, a USB thumb drive with a cracked version of Microsoft Encarta from 1996 on it, and three packets of shrimp flavored instant ramen noodle soup, please give us a sign. Unless… what if you already received the gifts and the pandemic was the sign? Shit. If that’s the case, please return my Korn CD and my USB thumb drive with a cracked version of Microsoft Encarta from 1996 on it. But you can keep the shrimp flavored instant ramen and choke on it. God knows I don’t want it.