Friday, May 25, 2007

Wikipedia and the New Truth Generation

The scourge of academia. The truth. The open contribution. The over-generalization.

Wikipedia has become the go-to source for all matters from the trivial tidbit to the dissertation footnote-worthy. Facebook has a group entitled "If Wikipedia Says, It Must Be True..." and it just might be, whatever "it" is.

A lot of academics (professors frustrated that students can become well-versed overnight in what took them years to study) say that Wikipedia is unreliable, unsourced, and a leading cause of cancer. To some degree, I believe this is true. The real substance in Wikipedia, however, isn't in the details, but the ability to get a gist of some complex ideas and be able to converse about them almost instantaneously. It's as if some research team compiled a briefing on every topic of interest in the universe for you.

For example, if someone brings up the poetry of Rudyard Kipling in a conversation with me, I'll remember the Wikipedia page I read last month on his poem, "If--" and how some consider it to be a mere list of aphorisms strung together, rather than any expression of inspirational sentiment. Also, that someone would rip the pocket-protector out of my Poindexter-brand shirt and smash my face apart for being such a smartass.

Wikipedia is a good way to become familiar with a subject and a lot of the views people have held or hold about it. In fact, Wikipedia might just be the Truth. Here at the CotB office, we tell our employees to only use Wikipedia. We've already tossed out the Funk & Wagnalls, Rand McNallys, Farmer's Almanacs, ___ for Dummies guides, Chicken Soup for the ____'s Soul books, and Encyclopedia Britannicas that adorned our plastic Target-brand bookshelves.

Our Truth is not the one our grandparents knew, which was accurate, but limited. Ours is expansive and riddled with glaring contradictions, yet somehow, I wouldn't have it any other way.