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on Wørds and Wisdom… redux

largeSo I’ve been taking this class called Digital Media for my English PhD. It’s about… well, digital media… because you know, we’re like the masters of the English language and that’s what we came up with. Anyway, we’ve been talking a bunch about collaborative projects and such and we’re discussing Wikipedia this week. While reading some articles in preparation I remember when I got into a discussion with Meron Langsner back in the day (in this case the day was nine years ago… 2006… because we’re fucking old. But lets just pretend it was like 2012 and we were 21, because it makes me feel better). Anyway, back in the day, when Meron was in grad school still, working on his PhD and I was in the real world crying myself to sleep every night while saying “Why oh why didn’t I take the BLUE pill?” I realized that he and I had fundamentally different views on Wikipedia.

I ended up writing a blog about it way back then. Actually, I guess I wrote a blog about that and pimping a a sexiest woman poll I was doing at the time for another reason. But anyway, I ended up rereading it and all the comments from it tonight. This is the best thing about the blogging. A decade later (where a decade is three years because I’m young and virile, dammit) you can revisit the thoughts of your younger self and laugh at how ridiculous you sounded.

So I went to do that tonight and it turns out that nine years later (ok, fine, fuck it… I’m old) I still feel the same way about a lot of things. I still love wikipedia. I still think that for most real-life practical purposes, it is better than “real research.” Will it tell me something with 100% accuracy? Well, no… though actually, in 2015 I think it does even better than I thought it did in 2006. I guess really, I feel like, it will tell me something with 99% accuracy 99% of the time. That other 1% of the time… it’s a crapshoot. Maybe it’s 95% accurate. Maybe it’s 1%. Who can tell? But it turns out, my stance on that now is just the same as it was back then… “fuck it, that’s good enough.” I actually referred to it as Truthiness at the time, but that was mostly because I was a big Stephen Colbert fan, and I knew even then that I wasn’t using he term exactly how he envisioned it. But you know, close enough…

That’s where things got interesting. In 2015, the world for me and Meron is sort of reversed. I made the off-handed remark then that I hadn’t had to write an academic paper in 8 years. But through a complicated set of machinations, I’ve since gotten the agents to plug me back into the Matrix, and since they ignored my request to make me a forgetful rich and famous actor, I now write them all the time. Meron on the other hand took the red pill and is now out in the real world, the poor bastard. But things were different back then…

If I remember correctly, Meron’s premise in our original argument, hinted at in his comments, was basically that the fatal flaw in Wikipedia is that you can’t trust it’s validity because of it’s Wild West. Since anyone could edit anything and there was no concept of authority or peer review, that made everything suspect. My argument was that we didn’t need centralized authority because automatic checks and balances by enough nerds who really care about some minute little subject, be it modernist poetry, thermodynamics or the plot to s1e14 of Firefly and can’t get a date will simply jointly fight back and forth until they correct it to where it is “true enough.” In fact, I’m like 100% positive that at least a couple people, reading this right now, know exactly what the plot s1e14 of Firefly is without googling it or going to the Wikipedia page. In effect, my argument is that it’s not so much not peer reviewed as it is peer reviewed by everyone who cares.

It’s just that nobody vets the peers.

I’m not so sure it matters. To the extent that Wikipedia is useful, I argued that the consensus reality of whatever most people believe about modernist poetry, thermodynamics or s1e14 of Firefly is far more important than any universal truth, whatever that means. Here, in the comments you will see a sidebar conversation between Max (max1975), Katherine(marmal8) and myself as to whether or not universal truth even exists that degenerates into postmodernism and the meaning of truth and really, is it any wonder I decided to go back to grad school?

Which brings us back to 2015. Basically, for Meron and I, the shoe is literally on the other foot. Actually, maybe I should say metaphorically. Except literally means metaphorically now; even the OED has given in on that. So even though I’m not even wearing shoes right now —and I’m guessing neither is Meron, since it’s almost 5am, and unlike me he actually sleeps like a regular person and I am talking about figurative shoes, and really, not even the other foot, since I’m basically talking about us switching shoes between our different feet and it would be silly for us to put the other person’s shoes on the wrong feet even in this ridiculous analogy, so we’d just end up wearing the wrong person’s shoes on the correct feet, and this sentence got way too long, and I did hat on purpose — you understood the meaning of what I said when I said literally. Why? Because consensus reality works, HOVAdammit! We can be as pedantic as we want about the meaning of literally, but when someone says the shoe is literally on the other foot, we know what they mean because enough people socially constructing the meaning of a concept makes it true. Or true enough.

So 9 years later (FUCK!!!) I am in the opposite place to where I was when I wrote the original blog, but I think I still feel the same way, and if anything moreso. So really I’m kind of interested in what other people think. Much like last time (and everything else I say here), I’m interested in academic and non-academic opinions. I’m guessing the prof who teaches this class will likely be interested in what my random peanut gallery of followers has to say too. I’m especially interested in what Meron, Katherine and Max say, just because I’d love to compare the OLD version of them to the current ones. But everyone else to, whether you knew me back then or not.

Do you trust Wikipedia’s accuracy? Do you trust the editing method? Do you care that it might not be 100% “true.”

Also… anyone who can create a wikipedia entry for ME and make it stick that says that I am 24 years old, and a rich and famous actor, I will give five dollars cash money!!!! Another five if you mention Cosmic Hellcats. That’s right! $10 up for grabs. That kind of money can change your life.

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33 comments for “on Wørds and Wisdom… redux

  1. avatar
    March 23, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    Les: honestly, the MAJOR reason I don’t want my FYCs using it is because I know that I’d be setting them up for problems later on in their academic career. If it were up to me, sure they could use it… for the things that it’s designed to be used for, at least. Which is sort of the point of the class I’m in. Wikipedia is a tool. And it’s a useful tool. Just like any encyclopedia.

    Here’s a for instance. Going back to the original post, say I tell my students to “write a report on space.” But since it’s college, I probably expect something more like “write a persuasive argument for or against the American usage of the Russian space program for transport to the ISS during the current political climate with the lack of a NASA run shuttle program.” And if you think that a kid isn’t going to go to Wikipedia to get starter ideas there, you’re deluding yourself. And you’re deluding yourself pointlessly.

    You’re also deluding yourself if you think they’re not going to go there If you ask them to close read Eliot’s The Waste Land. And why shouldn’t they? Is it the finest in academic criticism? Of course not. Is it quotable? No, and it’s not designed to be.There’s no “source” to quote. But it will give them a general understanding of the poem and a place to start with. And if they follow a link from the Wiki entry to some scholarly article, so much the better. Is that really worse than using MLA International Bib? Why? Because we say so?

    As to the question of “Who writes this stuff” and “how comfortable are we” that’s totally the point of discussing it (both in my class and here). The difference between Wiki and Converstativepedia though is reach as defined by audience. Any time you limit the reach to a specific population, bias will sink in and effect the consensus reality “truthiness.” Sometimes you want this. If you’re looking for the Conservative POV, then that site is probably better than Wikipedia. But the openness of Wikipedia means that you’re going to have a much more net unbiased POV just because of the larger population segment warring for equilibrium.

    To put it another way, can you really argue that say lit journals are “unbiased”?

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