Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Wiki this

Wiki this
Nandini Jammi
Issue date: 2/27/07

Stop trying to make "fetch" happen. It's never going to. Also, Tucker Carlson will not be stopping his egregious habit of wearing silly bowties in public, and Wikipedia, my friends, will never be a credible source for your precious research papers. No amount of Facebook rioting or Google bombing will ever change that.

Wikipedia, everyone should know, is a brilliant child of postmodern thought. Here is a place where a rural Vermonter can access information written by an Indian yuppie. Here we can access the other side and the forgotten. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, so let's give humanity a nice, squishy hug right about now. Have something to say? By all means, the "Edit" tool is a mouse click away. Let millions around the world know that the Eskimos have successfully potty trained a sofa. They will most likely scarf it up and cite it in their doctoral dissertations. History is certainly no longer written by just the winners, but also the losers, the innocent bystanders, and here's where we run into the problem - the misanthropic hackers and a garden variety of psychos.

During the last midterm elections, Wikipedia told the masses that Sen. Robert Byrd from West Virginia was, in fact, 180 years old. Congressman Jim Marshall from Georgia was labeled "too liberal," placing him on the edge of a deadly political cliff, which wasn't so peachy. In a moment of true democratic spirit, former Press Secretary Scott McClellan was listed under the entry for "douche." The mud-slinging got so bad that Wikipedia banned edits from IP addresses coming from Capitol Hill. That put a stop to Rep. Marty Meehan's (D-Mass.) cyber henchmen, who had been sneaking out campaign promises from their boss's entry during a period of six months.

This is where today's college students, who were raised on the then-precarious and now thoroughly obsolete concept of researching multiple sources of media, such as books (those dusty old things) bring their lazy, lackadaisical cerebral cortexes into the picture. They bring out their cyber pitchforks, demanding professors recognize the authenticity of Wikipedia, this great noble experiment. At this point, the professor most likely sends a snooty e-mail reply such as, "Go learn to use a real dictionary." Then, in the cyber equivalent of turning red and throwing a @#%#$^@^ fit, the student sends her sob story to Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last year that Wales gets "about 10 e-mail messages a week" from such students. Wales elaborates on their somber bleating: "They say, 'Please help me. I got an F on my paper because I cited Wikipedia.'" His reply? "For God sake, you're in college; don't cite the encyclopedia."

Wales knows that what makes Wikipedia an indispensable source for those with potbellies and somewhat unlimited computer access is also a catch-22. Before it becomes an acceptable source for research, Wikipedia will have to find a way to effectively police its more than 1 million articles, which it won't because that defeats the purpose of calling it Wikipedia. "Wiki" was defined as an inherently collaborative website by programmer Ward Cunningham, who picked it up from the Hawaiian term "wiki-wiki," which means "quick-quick." I know this because I looked it up online in the Oxford English Dictionary. Therefore, my editor feels much safer that I am quoting a safe and dependable source in The Diamondback, one that can be held accountable in case it's wrong.

Wikipedia is a great starting point for research. The links are fabulous -they'll take you all over. I play this game when I'm bored: I pick an entry to start from ("flamingoes") and see where I am half an hour later ("Lord of the Rings"). I also lead a lonely and minimally gratifying social life. But maybe, instead of tittering at me, you should go finish up your research paper. The university subscribes to precisely two trillion journals and publications. If for some reason, you find they give you wrong information, just bomb their Wikipedia entry like it's your job.

Nandini Jammi is a freshman English major. She can be reached at jammin(at)umd.edu.

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