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"The medium is the massage."
Marshall McLuhan

     Whether you like it or not, the Internet is going to have a major impact on your life. It is a mistake to think you can avoid becoming entangled in its World Wide Web. Like the telephone, the automobile, and other revolutionary technologies that came before it, the Internet is already responsible for dramatic changes in the way many of us live. However, the changes being brought about by the Internet are orders of magnitude more significant, and are taking place much faster, than anything we have ever seen before.

     Casual observers of the Internet phenomenon sometimes make the mistake of thinking it is nothing more than a new place to buy and sell merchandise, but it is much more than that. The Internet, or the Net as it is commonly called, is in fact the physical manifestation of the continuing evolution of human consciousness during an age of unprecedented growth in human/machine symbiosis. [1]

     We already take for granted that much of our daily activity is governed by machines. We no longer even notice that many common activities, like selecting a seat on an airplane or buying groceries, are now controlled by computers and other electromechanical devices. Large numbers of machines already serve as the primary interfaces between us and our fellow human beings, and the telephone is not the only device to which I refer. Recently I witnessed the age-old ritual of someone greeting a long unseen friend, but I saw a machine transform this experience into something quite modern. It was in the Dallas/Fort Worth airport while waiting to board a plane that I noticed a woman and her young daughter awaiting the arrival of a friend. They were carrying helium-filled balloons, flowers, and a video camera. The camera was of the type whose viewfinder consisted of a miniature television-like screen that could be seen when holding it several inches in front of one's face.

     As this young woman's friend came into view, there were the normal shouts of joy along with an exchange of hugs, but one thing was very different. The woman with the camera never stopped recording the scene. Her entire visual experience was confined to the images in the viewfinder and had little connection to the larger physical reality of her friend's arrival. Even as the woman and her friend embraced, she pointed the camera at her friend's daughter, all the while keeping her eyes on the camera's viewfinder. The greater part of this woman's visual impression of the experience was confined primarily to her camera's video screen. Therefore, when she replays the tape she will experience the audio and visual portions of this event in much the same way she did at the time. The sound and images from the video tape will faithfully reproduce her original experience. Had someone else been holding the video camera, a replay of the tape would provide the woman with a completely different point of view. Although her original experience was not totally controlled by a machine, her recall of that scene will be largely shaped by the machine she held in her hand at the time.

     Our dependence on machines has increased so gradually that few people give any thought to how much we are already at their mercy. Perhaps you can remember the first time you encountered a machine that scanned bar codes on products in your local grocery store, but you may not have paid attention to the fact that these scanners now seem to be everywhere. High volume retail businesses simply cannot function without them. If all computer-based price scanners were taken out of operation for just one week, the economic effect on businesses would be catastrophic. It is time to face the fact that we are already extremely dependent upon our machines. Machines like price scanners and personal video cameras are among the millions of devices that can now exchange information with each other through this technology we call the Internet. As you will see, the Internet is much more than somewhere to go to exchange email, buy things, or surf the Web. The Internet has become the central nervous system of our planet's social and economic life and is the physical manifestation of a place called cyberspace.

     One of the most basic human urges is to form bonds with others of our species. In prehistoric times it was the family fire that served as the technology for bringing us together. By the end of the 20th century we had developed an entire galaxy of technologies to help us remain connected to our friends and families. Yet no technology before the Internet has had the power to literally transform the entire range of human experience. There is much more going on here than meets the average eye, and if you intend to be an active participant in the affairs of this new century you will be well served to pay very close attention to the evolution of this important communications medium.

     Readers of this book need not have a deep understanding of Internet technology. In fact, a person who has not yet had an opportunity to use the Internet can still understand the concepts presented in this book, particularly if he or she first reads the "A Brief Explanation of How the Internet Works," which is included as an "Addendum." Readers with a technical background may also find the "Addendum" useful, particularly the subsection titled "Who is in Charge."

   "Addendum" topics that are touched on in the body of this work include:

Chat rooms.
Electronic mailing lists.
Internet protocols.
Types of networks.
The difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web.
Positive and negative connotations of the words "hack" and "hacker."
How the Internet is regulated.

     While one will not walk away from the "Addendum" with enough detailed information to become a certified network engineer, its purpose is to provide a basic understand of the workings of the Internet. In other words, you will know all you need to know about how it works in order to be able to navigate your way through cyberspace.

     I wish to make it clear that this book is not an attempt to impose my own sense of spirituality onto the Internet. In fact, the circumstances surrounding the writing of this book are exactly the opposite, for it was the inherent spirituality of the Net that drew me into this story. As I once heard Ralph Abraham [2] say, "The Web is a spawning ground for spiritual wisdom . . . what if that is what it is there for?"

     Originally, I intended to write a short essay about the spirit of camaraderie that was present in the Internet community before the World Wide Web was introduced. Before long, however, my notes took on a life of their own and it became obvious that there was much more to this story than I had originally planned to write. In essence, this book is about the ways in which unfettered access to virtually unlimited amounts of information is changing our world. The Information Age is now underway, and one of the major changes it promises is to free us from our previous reliance on those in power giving us access to accurate and uncensored information. Access to uncensored information is not a sure thing just because we now have the Internet. Those in power will not give up their control of information without a struggle, and that is one of the reasons the spirit of the Internet is calling out to you. As you will soon see, the cause of free speech on the Internet can use your help.

     As the subtitle suggests, many of the ideas in this book are speculative, some people will say highly speculative. For example, the concept of an ephemeral sphere of mind encapsulating the Earth, as originally theorized by Teilhard de Chardin [3] in 1938, is not a mainstay in most established schools of thought. This is the subject of the chapter titled "The Internet and the Noosphere." Other ideas, such as the ones you will encounter in the opening chapter concerning Virtual Reality and Inhabited Virtual Worlds, may sound speculative but are actually descriptions of activities that are now common in cyberspace. In the chapter titled "The Internet as a Chaotic Attractor" you will see how difficult it is to separate speculation and fact when one views our universe from the perspective of both new and ancient learning.

     The main thread of this book concerns what is meant by the evolution of global consciousness. It would be convenient here to provide the reader with clear and concise definitions of "evolution" and "global consciousness." As you will see, that is not an easy task. Until these concepts are more fully developed later in this book, when I use the word "evolution," I intend the more general usage-namely, to grow or develop. There are instances, however, when "evolution" is used in the context of biological evolution. At such times this usage will be clearly indicated.

    My meaning when I use the phrase "global consciousness" is not easy to explain in a few words. In the closing chapter, under the section titled "The Awakening of the Noosphere," the full meaning of this phrase will become clear. Until then, what is meant by "global consciousness" is that it is a state in which one is as closely attuned to issues that affect all life on this planet as one is to one's own personal affairs.

    I would now like you to consider the phrase "the spirit of the Internet." The word "spirit" has many connotations. It can mean an animating or vital principle that gives life to physical entities. Spirit can also imply a special frame of mind, a soul, a ghost, or a collective attitude such as school spirit. It is the purpose of this book to explore all aspects of the meaning of the word "spirit" as applied to the Net. My belief is that something of overwhelming spiritual importance is going on here. Something truly spiritual, or "of spirit," has already captivated many of the most thoughtful members of the Internet community, and this spirit is now reaching out to you. So come with me on a journey through cyberspace where we will meet this exciting new spirit that has already captured so many minds.

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