Explaining our social world to alien visitors

Sociology has a meme involving aliens: what would someone from Mars observe or conclude if they came to Earth and looked at modern society? Although it doesn’t come from a sociologist, here is an update on this idea that includes McMansions:

Since they haven’t answered, we could assume that the humans in space aren’t sophisticated enough to interpret our radio signals.

But just imagine how we can help them when we do find them. We can teach them everything we know and speed up their evolution into modern man in a flash. We could have them skip over the stone age, the bronze age, the iron age, the industrial revolution, and be flipping microchips and tweeting by sunset. How exhilarating it will be for us to teach them about fire and wheels. We could bypass the telegraph, and give them 3DTV! Imagine their excitement, moving from a cave to a McMansion with granite countertops? Once they learn how to use all the gadgets — iPod, iPad, iPhone — they would only need to learn the basics of reading and math.

The sequence of what we teach would be important. It would be terrible to show them how to accumulate stuff before we taught them how to defend themselves from those who would take their stuff away. Would spears be good enough or would we need to give them guns, guided missiles, or maybe an atomic bomb? And if they come from a tribal background, would every tribe need an atomic bomb?…

Of course, there is a chance that humans, way out there in space, have been receiving our signals. Maybe, they’re a lot smarter than we imagine. Maybe, they know all about us. Maybe, they have decided it’s better not to answer our call.

This may seem like a silly exercise but it has some value: it can be hard to take an outsider’s perspective of our own world. By trying to adopt the viewpoint of someone who might come from a completely different social system (and planet), it helps us take a broader and overhead look at our own actions and social relations.

I sense some satire here about showing our visitors 3DTV, McMansions, and iPads. This sounds like a suggestion that we pay too much attention to technological and physical comforts without remembering the foundation beneath them such as social structures, basic tools, government, and moral values. This seems related to the question of what civilization relies on.

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