Thursday, June 12, 2008

Another Sacred Cow Slayed?

Like many suburbanites, I grew up in a home with an Encyclopedia Britannica. It was a gorgeous old volume from the 1960s, most likely not containing a single independent country in Africa. I loved it. It smelled dusty, and it was in a dark brown case with a hole on top for the similarly outdated atlas, which admittedly (and unusually) I used a bit less. I think it often went missing for some reason. With four kids in the house, it could have been under a couch for a few years or something.

I got very upset with my mother when I found out she gave it away. She couldn't believe I wanted it, and I don't know that I could have actually taken it given space limitations in my various apartments in Boston over the years, but I at least wanted the chance to keep it. It was out of date, of course, but it then offered a snapshot of the world at that point in time. I often went back to the copyright page to see the year it was published, even as a kid. I loved knowing that this was the world that year, this was how it was understood.

I got additionally upset when I saw that people were making these:

How cool is that?! omg.

So now the news that the good folks at Encyclopedia Britannica are going all... wiki. I guess they resisted for some time, but eventually gave in to this culture of consumers creating, right?

I want to trust at least this is the case:

By editing all changes to its core base of information before they are posted online, Britannica, which has been online since 1994, hopes to create a trusted source that takes into account the input of the crowd. Members of the company's community of scholars and registered users will be able to post about new topics without intervention, but the company says all articles on new topics will be fact-checked and vetted before appearing in the main edition.
But like organic produce or independent bookstores, I don't know if my actions follow my beliefs as closely as they should. I'm not clamoring to buy a new set of encyclopedias, and I too use google all the time. Of course I do! But I still hope they are monitoring contributions because I maintain that we cannot let any ol' idiot make claims on anything they have an interest in. We've all been at that party when some blowhard is trying to tell you about something you know, and he's got it all wrong but he's determined to make his point. Do you want that a-hole dictating content for the Encyclopedia Brittanica?! I don't.

But I don't use it. I mean, sure, I'm not writing reports like when I used it in 7th grade, but I still would like to think I'd use it if it were in my home, I'd just flip through it. But the internet is, admittedly, so much easier. That doesn't mean I want to contribute, though, and for the record I do not use or trust Wikipedia. I guess I worry that there's nothing stable and trustworthy in this ever-shifting, ever-morphing culture.

But how much value should we place on stability? The world is changing and maybe it's conservative to try to slow it down. Again, though, I see this as a capitalist notion of he who changes fastest wins; he who allows open content most wins. "I can contribute, so I'll do that and then purchase!" Doesn't that seem like contributors are getting duped into becoming customers with a sense of false empowerment?

Super stressed about a job change, heading to these great folks, so maybe I'm just overly sensitive.... Will still keep a connection to publishing and will still keep up blog, but won't be editing day to day. Yikes!

Once again, more to come on that.

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