May 23, 2014

I Am The Bread Man

My memories of childhood summer roadtrips are golden. The sticky-hot car seat, warm air twisting through my hair as the Subaru barreled down the highway, and the endless reams of CB chatter between us, my dad's best friend (in a little Rabbit revving a few lanes over), and all the truckers in between. A cool lake was waiting at the end, but for us, the joy was lingering in the airwaves.

Take your name and place it in the palm your hand. Familiar letters, stumbling obediently into place - that's you. It introduces you, signs your emails, does the job's unlikely, though, that it is as effervescent as your CB persona.

"Breaker 1-9, this is The Bread Man. Over."
"Bread Man, this is Sir Gallahad. Go ahead."

Hearing a trucker's name, their "handle", blaring through a CB is an intimate moment. "This is Rubber Duck...Snakebite...The Frenchman...Phox Mulder...Teddybear..." Some handles are self-chosen, others bestowed by fellow drivers. Either way, across the low-lit audio realm, a self floats toward you.

If this declaration of a pseudonym is followed by a friendly warning of something in your path - "Bear with a Hair Dryer" (police car with roadside radar), "Gator Sunning in the Road" (blown tire lying in your freeway lane), or "Little Cheese" (school bus), the exchange is leaning toward downright familial. The medium is old-time radio. The conversation can meander, and a post-modern life story emerges: favorite restaurants, end-of-the-world theories, role of religion in the family, dirtiest-jokes-you-can-drum-up, jibes at fellow truckers, and then back to radio silence for letting thoughts ramble as one rolls down a dark stretch of highway, middle of nowhere. 

The story always begins with a name, though, naked, Sun at its back, surfing the radio waves out to the farthest reaches of the Universe.


Exoplanets abound, and there's the possibility of water and alien life around every corner. Fermi's Paradox reminds us it's unlikely they're going to answer, but still we, NASA, SETI, try.  

When the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecrafts were sent off in 1972-3, Carl Sagan requested they carry a plaque to tell other life forms of our existence. The people looked friendly enough, but the man's salute

raised questions. Some feared the contents would send the wrong message; television had begun beaming images of Hitler's raised hand into space back in the mid 40's, and it didn't seem prudent to hail back to an unsavory personality.

Then, in '77 the Voyager 1 craft went bounding toward our outer Solar System carrying the Golden Record, a soundtrack and accompanying photos to relay more extensively our biology, language and cultures, along with some "universal" math (Sagan had a hand in this one, too). The images are each startlingly germane to only a milli-slice of what it means to be human or to live on Earth; it is somewhat worrisome to guess at the story someone from far, far outside might extrapolate:

Admittedly, it is hard to imagine what the perfect montage might be. 

It is impossible to express all that we truly are with limited technology, or limited word count, but we could always do well with a tender moment of reflection before we holler hellos up onto new folks' porches. Social media provides minute-by-minute updates on all our real or imagined selves - soundbytes, tons of photos, stuff we think is interesting or funny (yes, we are complicit). Do we see more of each other this way? Are we well represented? 

Which self should we usher into the Universe when we let fly our next communication - yawp, tweet, Wilhelm Scream...? Too much pressure to decide. Instead in the Lab today we're keeping it 
low-fi, checking in about each others' latest CB monikers. 

Do you have a space-worthy handle? If so, by all means, send it in...

**update on 5/25/14 - NASA just released its new ebook on how to communicate with alien life forms. 300 pages! Hefty in all ways - we've skimmed through a bit - grander titles include: Inferring Intelligence: Prehistoric and Extraterrestrial, and Speaking for Earth: Projecting Cultural Values Across Deep Space and Time.  

filed under: Scream Booth, Messenger, Simulacra, Naming

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