Overview Effect brings to light humanity’s similarities

BY JULIA SCAVICCHIO ’14
Contributing Writer

Imagine yourself in space, completely separate from everything around you, and looking down at Earth. The ability for a person to actually step back and see the world for themselves may have a sublime effect on astronauts, giving them the ability to literally picture the world as one living organism.

While there’s not much documented on the phenomenon, those who have experienced this are calling it the Overview Effect. Planetary Collective, a film group on Vimeo, recently created a short documentary on this effect, describing it as “a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.” It’s not the act of looking at the Earth, like looking at an HD picture, that leaves the impression, but the moment of internalizing that you are separate from the entire planet, yet everything is together within that sphere floating in space.

It’s a heavy concept, and to be fair, only those who have physically witnessed the Earth would be able to share this perspective, but it’s something to reflect on as a person.

Everything you’ve ever experienced in life has existed on this planet, along with everyone else in the world. It can be difficult to really take this in when there are so many differences we have between one another. We have nationalities, ethnicities, physical discrepancies as well as socially defined ones’. Our cultures are different, our environments are different, and what we consider home is different.

The problem is there are so many things to witness on this planet that we get the idea something so far away we may never see has nothing to do with us.

I have a class on the third floor of Stager, all the way up at the top of the stairs. After class the other day I stopped to bundle up and looked down at the sidewalk with everyone shuffling around just trying to escape the cold. It’s strange being able to look down at someone so much smaller than you, then the next person, and the next.

Just being able to look at the motions of how people move in public spaces, like no one owns that piece of the sidewalk, I think can be compared to watching the weather patterns from space. We all have our own lives with separate thoughts, but at the same time, we all have so much in common. Watching how everyone shares F&M as a piece of their lives reminds me of the Overview Effect and how even if we physically separate ourselves with something like winter break, it’s still a home that we belong to and have a sense of responsibility for.

I found a purse last Friday in Salsa Rico (brown leather with a single long strap and metal buckles in case it was yours) and after the front desk told me it was too valuable for them to take, I had to hike over to Public Safety to drop it off into safe hands.

I don’t know whose it was and I didn’t bother searching. I handled it as if the rightful owner could have been me and I was the stranger, but I would like to believe that I didn’t act like a stranger. It was weird to carry a purse that wasn’t mine from the College Center, past a number of people crossing the quad towards the lofts, through the snow, and then to walk into the office and drop it off in such an unceremonious fashion that no one even asked for my name.

I wanted to feel something for the person who lost that purse and after putting the effort into helping her get back to it, I didn’t want to be a stranger. Not that I’m expecting a thank-you from anyone, but it would have felt nice to see it through and say “hey, not everyone would have taken the cash and run,” because I like to believe that we live in a better world than that.

Questions? Email Julia at jscavicc@fandm.edu.

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