Saturday, July 10, 2010

Web 2.0

The consumers of information and entertainment on the internet are becoming the creators. Dilbert mash-ups. Vimeo movie reviews. Youtube fan clips. Wikipedia entry edits.

We are creating our world. We might be producing information that no-one else is consuming. We might be making more than we are taking in. Our output might be outpacing our input. Does that matter? If we are not informed before we produce, we have the pleasure in knowing our work is naively original - we cannot possibly have copied or been influenced - we haven't seen the other output.

But to what extent is our perhaps ill-informed produce worth anything? Can it be called truth?

When information is modified in Wikipedia it is either changed automatically or on flagged pages there is a pause, a debate between self-nominated experts, a professional over-seer moderates and then we have alterations (if permitted). There is a checking system and it works - mostly. We are not by nature a society of liars. We do not want to produce inaccuracies (other than when we are compelled for commercial or personal reasons). We like to have contributed to helping improve global understanding. We want to have been pivotal in making something better. We want to be seen as knowledgeable, clever. We want to show off.

That is why I think there is just cause to believe in Wikipedia. Eventually we will use it as a resource and cite it. GoogleNews was planning on doing just this and conducted an experiment into its efficacy. In another article it is stated that:
"it’s hard to argue with the idea that many Wikipedia pages — which are often more comprehensive and updated more quickly than some news sites — offer background and context on current events that could be beneficial to Google News users."

This is probably the main point. With citizen journalists on the spot and giving us a street view of incidents, we can be there immediately. We can judge for ourselves. There is no editor, script writer, teleprompter reader. We can see for ourselves.

Academia's main bugbear is that it takes two years to review then publish scholarship. The information may well be old, based on outdated research and outmoded data. The purpose of publishing is thusly not for the benefit of Mankind to improve knowledge, but to add to someone's CV/resume, to make them closer to tenure. If we have a moral obligation to make our research available to everyone, then we should be publishing in Wikipedia or on our blogs. We might need to sell journals and books, but we might care more about letting humanity know a little bit more sooner rather than later.

Maybe information overload would be a problem. Putting all the research out there, for magazines to paraphrase in brief articles, where nuances are lost and inaccuracies flourish, might be pointless. The white noise wall of information may become too much and deter people from engaging or even listening. Perhaps after a serious debate in conference tracks, journal counterarguments and rival books, there might be a more solid argument produced, a more refined, joint understanding. This might be what should be fed down to the general populace. The average Joe doesn't want to have to grasp ten years of chemistry teaching to know that the new pharmaceutical might help his condition, as long as he avoids caffeine and doesn't have the trigger gene.

Are we protecting the public from being overwhelmed with information, or are we creating knowledge strata? Limiting those deliberately to make the information seem more valuable; information that is released only in the rarefied air expelled by other scholars.

Should we trust information produced by multiple persons working without financial gain (unless they are promoting a theory that one can learn more about in a handy pocket-sized classic available for only £5.99!) and viewable to the multitude who can join in as editors if so moved, or allow the information to remain unchallenged if they believe/know it to be fact?

Here is a site that talks about a documentary that was made on this very topic - it includes an embedded version of the documentary. Well worth watching!

Update: I have just found this on Claire O'Farrell's blog: "Scholarly work is essential in order to guarantee certain standards of truth and accuracy, of value to the social body. But popular books are also essential to communicate ideas to a non-specialist general public...A book does not stand alone, it is intrinsically bound up in a social network of work done by others." Interesting...
Also, there is this academic article that explores the issue of trust in Wikipedia contributions.
Ian Bogost thinks that academic output should be for the general public:
"But wait, you might say, why would a discipline of philosophy need or want to explain itself to a general population? This is the domain of specialists, and some will hold that we cannot or should not "simplify" our nuanced positions for the unwashed masses. This is wrongheaded. I'm of the general belief that academia has a responsibility to the public interest, but more than any other philosophical movememt in recent memory, OOO stands to benefit from the deep engagement of ordinary people, since it returns the attention of philosophy to the real, everyday world."

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