December 1997

A Brave New World's Fair

Book Review: A World's Fair for the Global Village
by Carl Malamud
MIT Press, 1997
ISBN 0-262-13338-5
304 pages, 800 illustrations
$40.00 (US)

Reviewed by Avis Winifred Rupert

At a recent conference I attended in Detroit, a colleague and I toured the various vendors' booths, which were filled with computer displays, interactive programs, academic software packages, books about technology, and curricula, all embracing the world of the Internet. Amidst such a showcase of technological marvels, my friend stopped and abruptly said, "Technology, it's everywhere. It's simply exploding before I can even get a grasp on just a small portion of what it's about." My colleague's remark is echoed by most people today, both inside and outside of the academy. But with more publications like Carl Malamud's A World's Fair for the Global Village, perhaps her lament might become a little less common. Malamud does a great service for those overwhelmed by the digital revolution by providing a quick snapshot of what the Internet is like and can be.

The book recaps the development of Malamud's brainstorm, an idea that initially began as an Internet radio station and gradually progressed into the Internet 1996 World Exposition, a "world fair in the air" endorsed by dozens of heads of states, sponsored by major corporations, and attended by five million observers who logged into the event. Modeled after the string of world's fairs throughout the past century, the virtual fair became an Internet event in which more than 80 countries built thousands of pavilions, and where those associated with the performing arts could display their talents. The fair also featured real time events such as the chess match between Kasparov and Deep Blue, the Brain Opera created by Tod Machover and the celebrated Uitmarkt in Amsterdam.

The book chronicles one man's story of how his vision of the Internet's potential came into existence eventually with the aid of a thousand or so assistants who wanted to make his undertaking a reality. Malamud is very honest about the challenges and frustrations he encountered as he and other colleagues began putting the project together. Although the end result was spectacular, you can appreciate the whole story because to discuss technology in the absence of challenges would be somewhat of an illusion.

The spirit and purpose of the fair is best distilled in the foreward to the book, written by none other than the Dalai Lama:

We need to understand that while the Internet cannot feed the poor, defend the oppressed, or protect those subject to natural disasters, by keeping us informed it can allow those of us who have the opportunity to do so to give whatever help we can.
And in the afterword, performance artist Laurie Anderson summarizes what she sees as an important legacy of the fair:
In the end, this Internet world's fair almost seemed like it was the beginning of a construction of another strange and floating world, where borders are more porous, where identities shift, and where time can slip from past to future. As the very first fair in the air, it was nowhere and everywhere . . . And as we continue to shape this new world, the eclectic and democratic spirit of the fair will be important things to remember and to build on.
A World's Fair is a reader-friendly, aesthetic treat. The numerous photographs and illustrations are colorful and revealing, and the timely quotes that appear on wide-margined pages speak of the observers and participants' vivacity. It is truly as alive as any hardbound book can be. The book consists of four major sections: "The Invisible Fair," "A Fair in the Air," "A Public Park for the Global Village," and "Nowhere and Everywhere," phrases that seem to have become synonymous with the Internet.

The book also includes an appendix that discusses the two CD ROMs that accompany the text. The first, "Concert in the Park," is an audio CD containing original music from the fair, while the second CD presents interviews with the creators of the fair and statements from visitors to the site.

Applying his craft, the author succeeds in appealing to two very distinctive audiences. First, the novice of the Internet will find the language very approachable, the definitions clear, the history of other world fairs informative, and the project itself a very comfortable introduction to the possibilities of the Internet. And second, the more seasoned technological person will probably walk away from this text appreciative of the author's imagination and efforts, and perhaps inspired to spearhead a project of a similar nature.

Yet what's more powerful is that for those who don't have access to the technology required to view the CDs or who are unaccustomed to using computers, the book just might nudge them into exploring the Internet. This is the greatest achievement of Carl Malamud's A World's Fair for the Global Village. [TOC]

Avis Winifred Rupert (, a graduate student at Bowling Green State University, currently works at the university's Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology, where she plans and co-presents teaching and learning seminars. She has taught in computer-aided and traditional learning environments after coming from a career in corporate America.

Copyright © 1997 by Avis Rupert. All Rights Reserved.


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A World's Fair for the Global Village by Carl Malamud

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