If you’re in the Northern hemisphere and you look to the south to the constellation Centaurus tonight you might view Alpha Centauri. 4.5 light years away. The nearest star to this one claiming ownership of us and our planet.
That’s right. About the time the light from Alpha Centauri was leaving home on the journey to your eye, all that clothing you see in the photo was sparkling new sitting on shelves in stores, racking up cash register numbers and causing people to have to frown at the bills at the end of the month. Now every item hanging there is worth less than a US dollar. Nobody likes products produced when the light from Alpha Centauri was just cranking up the engine, gunning the motor and heading here.
Weirdly, the value of everything around you reflects what I’m describing. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a toaster, a washing machine, an automobile, frequently even a marriage.
Face it. That stuff you’re buying won’t be worth squat when the light starting from Alpha Centauri today reaches here.
Maybe you’re humanocentric and think that’s lousy behavior on the part of a star, or maybe you’re one of those apologists who blame it on humanity, or Old Sol. But either way, you’re not looking at the worst case.
Northwest sky, bright, 25 light years. “Nothing wrong with Vega,” a person might think. But you’d be wrong. Almost everything people yearned and bankrupted themselves buying in 1986, when Vega was sending out the light you’ll see tonight, is in landfills and junkyards. Owning something manufactured when that light was leaving Vega’s worse than owning something manufactured in the USSR on Monday or Friday.
But there’s a lot more. When Vega was shooting that dot of light at your rods and cones writers were pounding away on typewriters and computers months at a time cranking out manuscripts, publishers running them up to the tops of the lists, creating tomes of gigantic lasting importance. But Vega took care of that, too:
New York Times Best Seller Number Ones Listing
Not one stayed around until that light from Vega reached here.
Lie Down with Lions by Ken Follett (Morrow) – February 16, 1986
The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum (Random House) – March 9, 1986
A Perfect Spy by John le Carré (Knopf) – May 4, 1986
I’ll Take Manhattan by Judith Krantz (Crown) – June 8, 1986
Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour (Bantam) – June 22, 1986
Wanderlust by Danielle Steel (Delacorte) – July 20, 1986
Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy (Putnam) – August 17, 1986
It by Stephen King (Viking) – September 14, 1986
Whirlwind by James Clavell (Morrow) – November 23, 1986
You can buy any one of them for a quarter, sometimes a dime at the Salvation Army Thrift Store.
Computers? When Vega was spitting out that dot of light you see here’s what was happening:
Microsoft releases MS-DOS3.2. It adds support for 3.5-inch 720 kB floppy disk drives.  (December 1995 ) (March [346.254])
Apple Computer introduces the Macintosh Plus. It features a 8 MHz 68000 processor, 1 MB RAM, SCSI connector for hard drive support, a new keyboard with cursor keys and numeric keypad, and an 800 kB 3.5-inch floppy drive. Price is US$2600. It is the first personal computer to provide embedded SCSI support.     [180.222] [203.68] [346.167] [346.268] [593.350] [597.94] [611.41] [750.49]
Lotus Development announces it would support Microsoft Windowswith future product releases. [1133.22]
Microsoft releases MS-DOS3.25. [346.268]
Two months after releasing Microsoft Windows, Microsoft has shipped 35,000 copies. [1133.22]
The first virus program for the IBM PC appears, called the Brain. It infects the boot sector of 360 kB floppy disks. [1230.56] [1805.23] (1987 [1260.193])
IBM announces the IBM RT Personal Computer, using RISC-based technology from IBM’s “801” project of the mid-70s. It is one of the first commercially-available 32-bit RISC-based computers. The base configuration has 1 MB RAM, a 1.2 MB floppy, and 40 MB hard drive, for US$11,700. (With performance of only 2 MIPS, it is doomed from the beginning.)   [205.114] [329.129]  [1391.D1]
Compaq Computer introduces the Compaq Portable II. 
Tandy debuts the Tandy Color Computer, with 64 kB RAM. It is the successor to the Color Computer 2. [1133.21]
AT&T creates the first silicon fabrication of its CRISP architecture CPU, incorporating 172,163 transistors, and operating at 16 MHz. [660.6]
Apple Computer introduces the Macintosh 512K Enhanced, for US$2000. It features an 8 MHz 68000 processor, 512 kB RAM, and 800 kB 3.5-inch floppy drive.   [597.94]
Seen any of that stuff lately? No. It’s all deep in attics, closets, garages, or in the city dumps.
But when you look up there at Vega, that’s what you’re seeing. All that stuff shiny and new gleaming in the eyes of you back then, packaged up for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas. Happy faces.
The erosion of human values following a straight line between Vega and your optic nerve. All that stuff listed above, the cars, the computers, the books, people worked their asses off to manufacture it and others worked their asses off to buy it all.
But that time lag between Vega and here screwed it all. Rendered it worthless.
I’m not partisan on this, not pointing fingers of blame at Vega. I don’t know whether it’s the fault of Vega, or whether it’s a conspiracy concocted by the same people who assassinated President Kennedy back when the light you see when you look at 19 Draconis or Alpha Cephei was leaving home.
Simon & Garfunkel – Leaves That Are Green