by Andrew Keen
March 7th, 2007
What does Wikipedia have in common with the old Czechoslovakian communist party?
Both excel in the art of forgetting.
The communists, of course, were particularly adept at forgetting. At the beginning of Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the Czech writer Milan Kundera describes a scene on a Prague balcony in February 1948. On this balcony stood two Czechoslovakian communist leaders — Klement Gottwald and Vladimir Clementis. It is snowing and Clementis graciously puts his fur hat on Gottwald's bare head. The two men are photographed and this becomes the iconic image of the Czechoslovakian revolution. Four years later, Clementis is purged from the communist party and he is eliminated from the famous photograph. So all that is left of Clementis in the photograph is that fur hat on Gottwald's head. Later, Kundera gets one of the characters in the novel to say:
The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
The Czechoslovakian communist art of forgetting is back. In 2007, it is being perfected by Jimmy Wales and his staff of Wikipedian "editors". A few days ago, a fellow called "Essjay" was all over Wikipedia. He was the Vladimir Clementis of the staff. Essjay appeared to be an expert in theology. He held four degrees including a doctorate. He was a phenomenally productive Wikipedia administrator of and a paid member of Wikia editorial staff. The guy was a legend — a Stakhanovite of Jimmy Wales' knowledge revolution.
And then, Clementis style, Essay got purged. He was outed as a fraud. As the New Yorker revealed, Essjay turned out to be a degree-less 24-year-old kid called Ryan Jordan, a drop-out of Kentucky's Lexington Community College. In keeping with the history of Czech communism, Jordan/Essjay even issued his own public confession:
…I *am* sorry if anyone in the Wikipedia community has been hurt by my decision to use disinformation to protect myself. I'm not sorry that I protected myself; I believed, and continue to believe, that I was right to protect myself, in light of the problems encountered on the internet in these trying times. I have spoken to all of my close friends here about this, and have heard resoundingly that they understand my position, and they support me. Jimbo and many others in Wikipedia's hierarchy have made thier [sic] support known as well…
Jimmy Wales fired loyal Jordan/Essjay and, all of a sudden, the kid/theologian is history. One minute he's everywhere and then he's nowhere. He went from hero of the information revolution to enemy of the digital mob in the space of one New Yorker editorial note. Entering "Essjay" into Wikipedia now shows up nothing — not even a hat. His bio has been deleted. Essjay/Jordan has vanished into thin air. Now Wikipedia just says:
RETIRED : This user is no longer active on Wikipedia
It is 2007 and the struggle of man against power remains the struggle of memory against forgetting.