For years now I’ve been enraged, or at least a little peeved, at people dissing Wikipedia for its ‘innacuracies’. This massive wad of information that has been created by the general public often gets criticised, largely by ‘traditionalists’ who bemoan its lack of credibility (in part) because ‘anyone’ can update it. While I’m inclined to agree the ‘wisdom of crowds’ is deeply flawed (roughly speaking, that more or less means that every democratically-elected leader in the history of politics was a ‘wise’ choice; they weren’t), I use, rarely contribute to, and very much respect Wikipedia. But I couldn’t get my defence of it quite right until now. In today’s Guardian (or would that be The Observer? Doesn’t sound as credible, does it?), the unlikely source of David Mitchell (unlikely, as Peep Show kicks arse, but his columns aren’t always made of the same metal, even if I did click on it, yeah?) makes the following point – lifted in all its glory.
But please don’t think I hate or suspect everything on the internet. I think, for instance, that Wikipedia is brilliant. That such a vast resource should have evolved so quickly is amazing, in a way that its inaccuracies and those who vandalise it cannot seriously undermine. I read a very stupid article about it last week, saying that it was worthless or harmful because readers have to be aware that it could contain errors or lies.
This ignores two things. First, Wikipedia’s level of accuracy is remarkable considering its eclectic provenance. And second, readers should always question the veracity of what they read and the motives of whoever wrote it, and in the internet age more than ever. People who allow themselves to be made credulous by stylish typesetting and a serif font are screwed. And if Wikipedia, while being very informative in most cases, teaches a few lessons about questioning sources, then that’s all to the good.
And there we have it. People read and watch any old shit. Britain has the best printed press in the world, and it sure as hell as one of the worst as well. I will no longer have anyone slag off Wikipedia’s accuracy by anyone who has ever picked up a newspaper without constantly questioning every single ‘fact’ and assumption that makes our publish-and-be-damned media landscape so attractive in the first place.
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