Earth's nervous system
Need to come back to this link too. Update (12/17/2003): Wired has an article about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his noosphere: A Globe, Clothing Itself with a Brain. It's likely to be a more reliable link.
Noosphere: The Emerging Web of Consciousness
Many years ago (1991 or 1992, maybe), early in my exposure to the 'Net, I was surfing Gopher sites and found myself pulling documents from a computer in Europe. That's when I first groked the power of the 'Net. Some time after that I described the 'Net to friends and family as a nervous system for the planet, where the people on the other side of the computers were neurons and the computers and networks were the synaptic links between brains.
In the early days of the Web everyone was using the "Information Superhighway" as the metaphor of choice for the 'Net. That describes what the network packets are doing, but it doesn't describe what the people receiving those packets are doing. I tried hard to get friends and family to think in terms of the people who were being connected by these computers, and not about what the packets were doing. I shuddered at the ugly imagery in early ISP marketing: "your onramp to the information superhighway." In retrospect, I'm not sure why greymatter should be more attractive than highways. Maybe because it's organic? Anyway, seems I independently found myself talking about a noosphere.