The Overview Effect

“We’re going to turn the camera around and show you the Earth,” begins OVERVIEW, a documentary about the first images of Earth Blue Marbletaken by humans and the effect that picture of the earth had on the astronauts who took it–and eventually the rest of the culture.

The documentary discusses what author Frank White calls the Overview Effect:  “an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it.” In his 1987 book by the same title, he noted several key features of this transformative experience, including a profound realization of the interconnection of all life. The documentary combines the imagery from that first outside look at Earth as well as interviews from those astronauts who first experienced the overview effect.

In 1968, the same year of the Apollo 8 mission, Marshall McLuhan’s War and Peace in the Global Village touched on a very similar shift in human activity based on our progress into space:

The information environment and effects created by the computer are as inaccessible to literate vision as the external world is to the blind. For example, the computer has made possible our satellites which have put a man-made environment around the planet, ending “nature” in the older sense. The new information technology will shortly encompass the entire astral system, harnessing its resources for terrestrial use. The important thing is to realize that electric information systems are live environments in the full organic sense. They alter our feelings and our sensibilities, especially when they are not attended to. (p. 36).

Our ability to see our planet from the outside as well as our incredible ability to surround that same planet with satellites to extend our technological reach into space adds a whole new layer of insight into our environment. McLuhan also came to a profound realization of the interconnection of all life and he saw how this would come to alter society. He realized that as we achieve this new kind of self-awareness, and “from that moment, all terrestrial phenomena were to become increasingly programmed artifacts and every facet of human life now comes within the scope of the artistic vision (War and Peace, p. 178).”

He would say elsewhere that seeing Earth from the outside would help humanity think of the Earth as a system–an integrated environment that could be programmed. It would allow us not only to program the natural environment, but would allow us to see how our electric–and now digital–technologies themselves formed a kind of environment: a second nature.

Watch OVERVIEW and see the profound impact the overview effect had on those first astronauts.

Other articles

Support Second Nature

Second Nature depends on the generous donations of readers like you.

Second Nature is published by the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity (IISTC), a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to studying technology in light of the Christian tradition.

Your generous contributions make this work possible. Please consider donating today to help us continue this important work.

About the Contributor

Benjamin Robertson

Benjamin Robertson
Benjamin Robertson is a founding editor at Second Nature. He has worked in advertising for the Chicago Tribune and Gannett, and now is a web developer at Mediacurrent. He studied Communications and Media Studies under Dr. Read Schuchardt at Wheaton College in Illinois. He has presented papers on Marshall McLuhan, media ecology, and Christianity at the Media Ecology Association, National Communication Association, and the McLuhan's Philosophy of Media Centennial Conference in Brussels. He lives with his wife, Ruth, in Greenville, SC. His personal website is

Speak Your Mind


Support Second Nature

If you find value in the work we do at Second Nature, please consider making a modest donation. Every donation, no matter how small, is a huge encouragement to us in our work.