Today, I was reminded of how things were, before we grew accustomed to a free flow of information accessible to everyone with access to the web. And I don’t want to go back.
The campaign against SOPA and PIPA has taken different forms over the past months. The two pieces of legislation are feared by many, who claim they’ll ruin the web as we know it, and thus ruin the free flow of ideas and information. Today, Wikipedia made the boldest move yet, and subjected the English version of the crowd-sourced cyclopedia to a complete blackout. A move that echoed around the world, and even made headlines here in little Denmark.
Television’s comeback as gatekeepers
As a response to the blackout, the most popular morning show in the country gathered a team of experts to answer all those questions that you weren’t able to look up on Wikipedia. (Being Danes, we could of course just use the Danish, Swedish or Norwegian version of Wikipedia, but let’s ignore that for a second). When watching the hosts convey the questions from the viewers to the experts, I was reminded of how things were like when I grew up.
What is this?
There were television quiz programs where contenders had to guess what an object was used for, and discussions at a dinner could continue on and on and on and on, until someone caved and went next door to look it up in an encyclopedia. You needed middle men to get answers, and access to them or the information itself wasn’t easy and certainly not free for all.
When I moved out as a teenager, I would call my mother with questions, when ever I was discussing a subject and couldn’t remember a detail, or friends couldn’t agree on the nature of something. I’d call her up to pick her brain, and if she couldn’t remember or didn’t know, she would look it up for me in one of our two encyclopedias. A few years later she admitted that the reason why we had two encyclopedias, was because the latest one was bought for me, so I’d be able to take this pool of knowledge with me, when I moved out. It was an economic investment that was worthwhile in her eyes; a necessity.
But when I did, the frequent calls with questions were so nice that she prolonged giving it to me. Can’t say that I blame her – I missed her insightful answers and thoughts on matters from politics to anthropology when I started looking everything up myself.
But, make no mistake, I’d rather call my mother about something I’ve found on Wikipedia, than to be stuck with television programs distributing knowledge found in books.
Wikipedia and the web replaced the action of calling others for answers with the process of creating the answers together, and transformed the printed encyclopedia from being a decisive collection of knowledge to a historical artifact; a static image about how the world was perceived once. Hopefully the conversations will also evolve from solemly being about the facts themselves to where the knowledge came from, how and with what built in assumptions?
Thank you, Go’ Morgen Danmark and the Wikimedia Foundation, for reminding me, how truly fantastic and game changing Wikipedia is, and how utterly grateful I am for all the opportunities the web gives me.