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e-Sphere: The Rise of the World-Wide Mind

reviewed by Michael Goldhaber - 2002

coverTitle: e-Sphere: The Rise of the World-Wide Mind
Author(s): Joseph N. Pelton
Publisher: Quorum Books,
ISBN: 1567203906 , Pages: 262, Year: 2000
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Educators have special reason to be future-oriented, but knowing enough about what the future might portend to draw any useful conclusions is another matter. The track record of professional futurists (or at least of those who write repeatedly about the future) is not particularly encouraging. The science-fiction writer Arthur C, Clarke is justly celebrated for inventing the notion of communications satellites in geosynchronous orbits in the 1940’s, but he was also the author of the book behind Stanley Kubrick’s famous 1967 movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was hardly an accurate prediction for the real 2001. That Clarke wrote the Foreword for e-Sphere should thus not count as too ringing an endorsement.

The notion that a "world-wide mind" is emerging could be a provocative subject for a book, whether meaning that computers connected together through the Internet could function as a unified mind, or, more likely, that the mental processes of their users could combine via the same connection to operate as a single transcendent whole. But Joseph N. Pelton explores neither of these thoughts at any depth. Instead he provides a well-meant hodgepodge of mostly superficial, often commonplace, sometimes science-fiction-like predictions and prescriptions about the future near or far, with little coherence, minimal argument for his conclusions, and a great reliance on indisputable assertions like "balance is needed."

He does begin by quoting the paleontologist-theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to the effect that evolution has led from the "biosphere" to the "noosphere, " Teilhard’s term for the "thinking layer, which [......] has spread over and above the layer of plants and animals." Teilhard’s concept may have been a bit overly charged, as much romantic theology as science; but the noosphere was at least a profound hypothesis. Pelton’s analogy , based on our electronic links, is the word "e-sphere," which in his hands has sadly little depth. Aside from coining the term, he tells us frustratingly little about it, throwing at us instead a sheaf of more or less randomly chosen charts, graphs, lists, plus equally random examples and anecdotes from the world of business.

After introducing his key terms, Pelton offers, "To make a successful transition to a cybernetic world we must literally learn new ways of thinking. There must be a new approach. It must be a paradigm that creates a plausible new intellectual and cultural vision of the future. This new cyberspace paradigm means a new renaissance in our thinking..." George W. Bush might not be able to say it better himself, but one hopes his speech writers could. This maddeningly meandering, redundant, circular style, often devoid of any insightful content whatsoever, is entirely typical of the book. The promised "new paradigms" and "renaissance in our thinking," or even a hint of them, are nowhere to be found.

Not content with predicting, say, the next twenty or fifty years, which would be hard enough, Pelton includes a chapter on the next billion years! One of his more modest (and short-term) predictions there is that in 30 years, we shall have "artificial islands, colonies under the oceans, mag-lev hypersonic [train] tunnels between the continents, and molecular-level quantum communications and digital processing (a billion times faster than today’s processors.)" We already have artificial islands of various sorts (mostly land-fill), and have for years; the well-known Moore’s law of the increasing speed of microprocessors , if it still holds for another three decades, would give rise to something like his processor prediction; but train tunnels between continents better already be being dug if they are to be completed on time (and of course they are not). He offers no reason to expect undersea colonies by 2030, and to me they seem no more likely than colonies on Mars by the same date. Pelton ignores the key point that his e-sphere represents a new kind of space opening up: cyberspace. If it is significant, then human exploratory zeal should begin to move in quite different directions than the kinds of old fashioned futurism he offers.

But what would follow if we took Pelton’s strange grab-bag seriously? For one thing, as he points out elsewhere in the book, education must be reformed. Here are a couple of the ten reforms he daringly proposes: "Reform 7: Exploit the Best New Technologies and Applications"; "Reform 9: Higher Education Offerings Need to be Relevant to Current Societal Standards and Not Just Academic Standards of the Past." If these sweep you off your feet, perhaps you should read this book.

Not absolutely the entire book is at this level; a few interesting, even novel thoughts emerge here and there from the soup of banalities interspersed with sci-fi whiz bang. But I haven’t found any thoughts sufficiently provocative to be worth effort of tracking them down, much less worth the book’s extravagant price. Think of it as at best a resource for other futurists needing filler for their own works in the same spirit. Judging by the bibliography this isn’t Pelton’s first work of futurism; perhaps it wouldn’t be too bad a prediction to guess that he may recycle this one himself.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 1, 2002, p. 156-158
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10766, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 9:01:08 AM

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About the Author
  • Michael Goldhaber
    Independent Scholar
    E-mail Author
    Michael Goldhaber is an independent scholar in Oakland ,California, specializing in understanding current societal, technological and intellectual trends, a columnist for Telepolis and a contributor to other publications. He is working on several books related to these interests and has previously published Reinventing Technology: Policies for Democratic Values. His Ph.D. is in theoretical physics. He has taught at UC Berkeley, the University of Arizona, San Francisco State University, and Cornell.
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