The Overview Effect and the "Facebook Revolutions"

Written by Frank White on Saturday, 07 July 2012.

As we have watched the uprisings that began in the Middle East and have now spread around the world, much has been made of the role that Facebook, Twitter, and other online technologies have played in assisting the revolutionaries in coordinating their actions.

What hasn't been mentioned is that these capabilities depend largely on a space-based technology, i.e., satellites, for their impact. When I interviewed astronaut Jeff Hoffman for The Overview Effect, he pointed out that the "technological overview" might have greater near-term influence on society than the philosophical shifts resulting from viewing of the Earth from space. Speaking of the impact of global communications, he noted that very little could happen anywhere in the world without other people knowing about it.  He said, "That is probably the biggest thing the space program has done in terms of changing human consciousness, although very few people recognize it as the space program."

The same might be said of the environmental movement, which has had an enormous influence on our society. The link between the movement and the early views of the whole Earth from the moon was noted  at the time, but seems to have been ignored in recent years. Some environmentalists are even hostile to the idea of space exploration.

I detect, on the part of humanity, an unwillingness to absorb one of the key messages of the Overview Effect, which is that we are in space, we always have been in space, and we always will be in space. And as we move out into the universe, our life on Earth will forever be changed. I've begun to think that the problem might lie with the word "space." Even though the domain we call "space" is closer to the surface of the Earth than Boston is to New York, our minds tend to think of it as far away and alien in some way. I wonder if we need a new word, like Earthspace, to describe that region outside our biosphere that is still quite close to our planet's surface. Perhaps that would diminish our sense of being far away from home when we are in "space."

We could even embroider on this concept and say that as long as we are within the gravitational pull of the Earth, we are in Earthspace. If we created another Apollo vehicle like the Saturn V, and entered the moon's gravitational pull, we would be in "Moonspace." We could divide the entire solar system up this way, so that our minds would not feel so overwhelmed by the term "space," which would still be, of course, the "final frontier."

About the Author

Frank White is the author of The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, first published in 1987 and re-issued in 1998. A member of the Harvard College Class of 1966, Frank graduated magna cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, earning an MPhil in 1969. He is the author or co-author of eight additional books on space exploration and the future, including The SETI Factor; Decision: Earth; Think About Space and March of the Millennia (both with Isaac Asimov), The Ice Chronicles (with Paul Mayewski), and Space Stories (with Kenneth J. Cox and Robbie Davis-Floyd). He also contributed chapters on the Overview Effect to four recently published books on space exploration, Return to the Moon, Beyond Earth, Living in Space, and Space Commerce.

Frank has spoken at numerous conferences on space exploration and space development. In 1988, he delivered the keynote address at the International Space Development Conference in Denver. In 1989, he spoke at George Washington University to mark the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. He also delivered the keynote address at the first Overview Effect Conference in 2007.

In 2006, the Space Tourism Society awarded Frank a "Certificate of Special Recognition."

In 2008, Frank was one of the speakers at a session of the International Space Development Conference that launched the Overview Institute and announced the signing of the Overview Declaration.

Comments (2)

  • Dennis Davidson

    Dennis Davidson

    22 August 2012 at 01:53 |
    Hello Frank,
    This is Dennis Davidson. I am a research artist. I have been chasing the Overview Experience since the day Carter Emmart telephone me with the news --- "Dennis! We have stars!!" That was Nov 1998. I was in New York at the American Museum leading the Digital Galaxy team that turned a numerical dataset of 200,000 stars into a view so striking in its elegant silence that it never failed to stop me in my tracks. We built an Overview Machine. It was our test article during our work on the new Hayden Planetarium.
    In my view, our single-screen CRT projected display of a real time representation of the observable universe --- in terms of picture quality ---- has never been surpassed. Domes are too dim.
    We ran the test display from Dec 1998 through 2000 or 2001. What was remarkable was this --- I never got tired of it. Never got used to it. It was inspiring. Calming. Just, I can't find the words.
    I'd like to discuss this further. I'm developing a prototype design to bring theis experience into everyday life. We need this. We need the global and astronomical perspective it brings.
    We know how to do this.
    Dennis Davidson
  • Frank White

    Frank White

    25 August 2012 at 15:27 |
    Dennis, thank you very much for your posting. Can you tell us more about your previous work and what you are doing today?

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