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Listening, They Will Not Hear

According to today's "Wall Street Journal," nearly one million people have downloaded software over the last decade in order to take part in a project called Seti@Home. This project uses the idle time of personal computer to analyze data from the Arecibo radio telescope to search for signs of extra-terrestrial life. The system has worked superbly but, alas, no intelligent life has been found in outer space; little seems to remain on earth. For you see, those who professionally seek E.T.s (setiologists) "concede that early assumptions about the search for intelligent life--notably those popularized by astronomer Carl Sagan--have proven naively optimistic." There is "little chance of detecting the 'leaking' transmissions of another planet--its version of 'I Love Lucy' broadcasts. Those signals are too weak to stand out from the universe's background noise."

Therefore, the sponsor of this computer sharing program is encouraging its participants to switch over to other causes like finding a cure for Alzheimer's or exploring the finer points of relativity. The problem is that the E.T. searchers will not switch over. They have been scoring points for their participation. And, although these points are unredeemable at any grocery store, they want to receive the most points for the search of life in outer space. One man in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, admits to keeping 23 personal computers placed throughout his house (a estimated $20,000 investment) in order to search the radio signals. It makes one wonder if an arrival from outer space would find intelligent life on our planet. Perhaps instead of calling this a use of computer idle time that it would be better to call it idol time.