As humanity has committed millions of dollars to the search for extraterrestrial life, it clearly shows that many of us truly believe there is a strong possibility that we could contact an alien race in the near future. But with the sensationalist media, how will such contact be interpreted if we do successfully establish mutual communication with an alien planet? What issues will have to be covered first?
First, we have to make the honest admission that even if SETI is successful and the possibility of communication is successful it may not happen in a way that allows immediate communication. While language barriers will likely be overcome within a reasonable period of time, there is still the matter of the vast distance between our planet and another. If the radio signals were sent and received from a planet orbiting our nearest star, Proxima Centauri, the amount of time required to send and receive a message would be around four years. Unless another system, such as quantum entanglement communication is developed there would likely be a very long silence on the line between messages.
Interestingly enough, presidencies also take approximately four to eight years depending on the success of the administration politically. Imagine eight years passing between one message and the next. Eight years ago, in 2002, our society was in a very different place. But if such an alien race were to contact Earth by comparable technological means, it may change just as much on their world. A peaceful civilization could go to war and become warlike, lose interest in Earth, or even become openly hostile or antagonistic through the rise of an isolationist planetary regime. And similarly its messages to other planets could just as easily be a cry for help as they assume Earth’s technology must be far in advance of their own.
There would no doubt be a movement on Earth as well intending to ignore any messages in space and shut down the SETI program. The possibility of cosmic neighbors creates new dangers that must be considered, and many will find the only responsible thing to do in response would be to attempt to disappear as a planet out of fear of the unknown. And for all we know the reception of an alien signal resulting in this may be the cosmic norm with humanity on the far end of the spectrum toward curiosity and a drive for discovery. If there is technological event, such as the creation of an accidental doomsday device that is in the norm for the flow chart of technology on other planets it becomes even more likely that alien civilizations would be around our technological level (assuming said doomsday technology was in our near future or recent past).
So where would you stand if we made contact with an alien race on a distant planet that was currently incapable of reaching Earth, but capable of communicating? Would you stand on the side of cosmic isolationist policy? Or would you be willing to hold on the line for years as an interesting and potentially life changing conversation took place?