June 15, 2006
What to do with wiki
Another shameless referal to previous post, High-tech cheaters. Scott McLemee's recent article in Inside Higher Ed makes points to a related issue: wikipedia. I think Mclemee is all to deferential in his article. Of course we should contribute to wikipedia. Wiki's capture something essential about the internet. And all caveats apply. Wikipedia is only exactly as quick and easy to use as it is potentially misleading: as it is with most things.
Also, check out McLemee's blog. I love the bit on referrals:
My favorite search leading anyone here (at least in recent memory) was one someone did for "hot girls reading heidegger."
Lord knows I searched for them myself, once upon a time, but that was in the dark ages, long before the Internet. Good luck, whoever you are.
But avoid "hot girls reading kristeva." More trouble than it's worth. Trust me on this.
Another interesting link emerging from the McLemee article is to Jaron Lanier's article "Digital Maoism". Lanier's argument is detailed and interesting. He attempts to take on the question of whether or not the "collective" cognitive capacity that is represented by wiki's is really destined toward some improvement.
A couple of things: Lanier is wrong that
"Reading a Wikipedia entry is like reading the bible closely. There are faint traces of the voices of various anonymous authors and editors, though it is impossible to be sure."
The Bible is what it is because these various writers and editors spanned a long period of time when it was very hard to record anything. So what was saved was certainly not the work of one person, was sometimes contradictory, but certainly withstood the test of time. Wikipedia is the opposite.
Second, I'm not sure by what standard Lanier is measuring wiki. He uses such concepts as "voice" and "personality" to criticize wiki entries. I don't think anyone is looking for the hundred monkeys in a room with typewriters who produced Shakespeare. We're looking for something much more dry: some decent facts, good links, a beginning to a research project.
Finally, I don't see a necessary connection between buying into the wiki and buying into the "race to the most meta." For one, there is no necessary gradation in wiki entries, we do not accend a hierarchy of being, or gain logical generality through the internet. Instead we gain, mainly random, horizontal webs of interconnection, links. It's not the Tower of Babel, its more like algea on the surface of a pond. Which reminds me, even if "collective" thinking is roughly random, given enough time and adequate energy sources, randomness has proven itself in the past.