How many smartphones sending their tiny, hopeful messages into outer space would it take until at least one of them found an eager ear on the other side, ready to talk to Earth, maybe even visit?
That's the fundamental question -- and driving plot point -- in my novel, Love in the Time of Caller ID.
From the middle of the story:
The music brought Jackie back. Music was a constant in his life, in most people’s lives, even if for many it was, as Francis said, mere background noise, the equivalent of a logo on their shirt. All walked about with their favorite music on, playing constantly, some even had permanent fixtures set inside their ears. Most, however, chose the temporary ones, like Jackie, piping the sounds continuously into their brains — and nearly as often to those around them. The music – their music, their sounds – nourished them, uplifted them, liberated them, reflected them, and in ways faster, fuller and more outwardly palpable than words or pictures or conversations or writing or anything else, really. Hear their music and you understood the person, maybe the person understood themselves even better than before. Such was its power. Jackie built a app that not only always played music the person wanted to hear at that very moment but also — and he had no exact word for it — ‘literally’ reflected them. Empty Spaces, his smartphone app, achieved the impossible in large part not simply because it worked so well but because it was as if everyone was unknowingly waiting for an app exactly like it.
Empty Spaces analyzed the billions of bits of data that constantly traversed a user’s mobile phone. Based on algorithms that required years of toil to perfect, Jackie’s app determined a user’s mood in real-time: sad, happy, confused, giddy, somber, bitter, frustrated, lonely, betrayed, frightened. Once it determined how the user felt, his app played a song that perfectly matched their mood. Usage started slow but soon went viral. At ten million, the tech press was buzzing, investors were circling. Grand plans and promised meetings to help “monetize the user base” and “leverage engagement” greeted Jackie with each new morning. All told him in no uncertain terms that he was going to be rich, fantastically rich. None, of course, knew his secret.
Whether a final act of rebellion, malice, self-destruction, tithing or penance, Jackie was never entirely sure, and it no longer mattered, before releasing Empty Spaces into the wild, he inserted his secret code. As Empty Spaces hopped from user to user, it surreptitiously sought out unused bits of the user’s smartphone processing power. Empty Spaces took those unused bits and generated a special message; a message directed not at the user, nor those around them, but to aliens. There, he said it. He was trying to call aliens with a smartphone. Or, rather, millions of smartphones, to be precise, aggregating millions of messages from millions of users. Once found, a digital message in a digital bottle floating through the heavens, the recipient would know exactly who called — Earth/Empty Spaces/Jackie Paper — and exactly how to make contact.