Sunday, May 11, 2008
Damn you Wikipedia!
I love Wikipedia. I can get lost for hours following link after link of subjects I'm interested in. It's the perfect illustration of how knowledge really works, i.e. as a web of information all interconnected in our minds. None of our beliefs or ideas stands in isolation, it's all "linked" together if you will. Wikipedia is to coherentism what the brick wall is the foundationalism.

However the very thing that makes Wikipedia so great, i.e. the easy access to tons of information and quick linkages between all the interrelating topics, can also be sort of depressing for those of us who were around before it existed and had to come to our knowledge the old-fashioned way. It can be disturbing to realize that all the information it took you weeks or even months to accumulate and find the interrelations between is all laid out for you there instantly on Wikipedia and can be digested easily in just a few hours.

For instance, I am a huge Arthurian buff (as in King Arthur). In high school I spent months reading and researching about the historical King Arthur. I know about the Welsh genealogies & chronicles, the Celtic tribes and where they lived, the document evidence for Arthur, and the possible locations for Camelot and the Battle of Badon (I even visited a few of them when I was in England & Wales back in 2000.) I used to get copies of some of the original sources through InterLibrary Loan, and even learned a little bit of Welsh so I could decipher them. Over the years I developed my own theory of who Arthur was and how all the historical pieces and details fit together, and even fleshed it out in a way that I think might make a good story someday if I feel like writing it. (You can read my outline here, though it's pretty rough and won't make much sense if you're not already familiar with the persons and place names.)

However, I recently discovered (as you can see from the links above) that nearly all of this information is already available on Wikipedia. Even just reading through some of the entries there I already began to find holes in my research and details that I had missed. Of course, having done all of the thorough research before has given me a much better understanding of the context so that that I can recognize the significance of each detail, but even still, it's depressing to think how much more effective my earlier research would have been if I had had this kind of tool at my disposal 12 years ago.

So in Colbertian fashion I am giving both a Tip of My Hat and a Wag of My Finger to Wikipedia. I love it, but I also hate it for being so much smarter than me. :)
 
posted by Mike Clawson at 4:10 PM | Permalink |


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