Wikipedia. It’s what they say.

The Internet is the address where our common knowledge resides. Now, the most common of all common knowledge has a name. Wikipedia. In fact, Wikipedia is what they say.

We’ve all used that careless attribution from time to time. “They say a seatbelt won’t really protect you in a serious car crash.” Who said that? Who are they? Today, they are Wikipedia.

This electronic encyclopedia can be written and edited by anyone. They write it and we read it. We have no idea who they are. They may know what they’re talking about or they may not. Earnest college professors tell their students not to use Wikipedia as a source of information.

But we use it (and other websites like it) when we’re curious about whether some famous movie actor is alive or dead. We use it to learn the date when Charles Darwin was born and to get a broad idea of what is meant by the theory of relativity… just to choose a couple of random examples.

It is an encyclopedia, after all. And it’s faster, easier to use and more up-to-date than any other encyclopedia. But I suspect the World Book I grew up with had an editor whose name was found on the masthead. Now we’re going to them for information. They are unaccountable and the things they say have always been a collection of fact, fiction, myth and legend.

They also don’t tend to present information that challenges the common wisdom in any compelling or responsible way. Okay, maybe the World Book didn’t either! But at least you knew who to blame.

I remember hearing a lecture by an African scholar named Ali Mazrui more than 20 years ago when he spoke about oral and literate cultures. The problem with the oral tradition, he said, is it passes on information that is agreed upon and homogenized. It doesn’t pass on information that is challenging, obnoxious or brilliant. That stuff has to be written down to stand the test of time and lend itself to the progress of future generations.

Wikipedia is literate in the sense that it’s written down. But it’s like oral culture because it’s information that’s agreed upon and that no one person is responsible for. I will admit that the knowledge of the masses is a vast resource and common wisdom is usually correct, based on reality we see every day. Just don’t believe everything they say.

Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized

2 Comments on “Wikipedia. It’s what they say.”

  1. james stouder Says:

    I see that the Sage of Balboa Park needs to proof his typing and spelling a bit better. However, like getting something you don’t want from your favorite relative at Christmas–it’s the thoughts that count.
    The Sage of Balboa.

  2. james stouder Says:

    And don’t believe in everything “they” say either, especially when “they” is a media whose only virtue is making more and more money. The “media” used to be four TV networks that everyone in America watched. Sunday afternooons were reserved for the few people who wanted culture (programs like Omnibus and Adventure with Natural History.) and Sunday night was reserved by everyone for 60 Minutes and Ed Sullivan. Now that same “everyone” is scattered into a hundred channels, many devoted to telling lies to people who already want to believe them. Those not watching TV are watching their computer screenes or playing its games. What’s lost is the authority and power of accurate obervation, which is often called cynicism by those who lack both. Tom Lehrer,a bright wag from my generation summed the problem up succinctly: The Media is like a sewer. What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

    The Sage of Balboa Park.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: