This post is from the new blog I’m contributing to, Five Hombres
Tomorrow is potentially one of the most significant events in the Internet’s recent history. Wikipedia will be shut down for 24 hours.
The reason for the shut down are to protest against the SOPA and PIPA bills that are working their way through the US government at present. I won’t go into details of what they are, you either know what they are or don’t, you wont’ learn anything knew about them from me (well i’ll add that my greatest concern is that once again the USA seems to be the ones who control the internet and local laws they pass will have global ramifications) and the context of this post is not about them but Wikipedia and it’s place in our lives.
Do you remember a time when you couldn’t remember something about something? Like that guy who was in that film? or that TV show? The year your favourite album came out? what exactly cote de boeuf is? Was J Edgar Hoover involved with McCarthyism? These things happen all the time for me at least, but I don’t worry about it, I can just look it up on Wikipedia.
Good old Wikipedia, our salvation, our secret weapon, the fountain of all human knowledge at our finger tips.Anything you’ve ever wanted to know is there waiting for you to read it – providing that someone has added it to the database of course. To think, there used to be a time when you would have to phone a friend if there was ever some bit of trivia you couldn’t exactly remember. When having a discussion or argument, in the past you’d have a war of words, but now, just wikipedia the thing and put the issue to bed (unless it’s politics or religion in which case you shouldn’t be discussing these in the first place, no good can come of it).
In The Matrix the characters could download into their mind knowledge at the touch of a button. Today, with cunning use of a smarthphone you can partake in any dinner party conversation armed with an opinion without any prior knowledge of the subject by downloading it (though some clearly feel that knowledge of a subject doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion on it). Knowledge is at out finger tips, you don’t need to KNOW anything anymore, you just need to have an internet connection.
This is the world we live in. An entitled world where people’s idea of knowledge has been reduced to how fast you can read and the speed of your internet connection. Encylopedia’s used to be musty tomes hidden away at the back of Library’s. I recall when I first saw the Encarta Encyclopedia, it came on a CD, in a caddy and opened up the world to me, provided you were in the school library. Now not only is more information than ever before available, it’s available to anyone.
Wikipedia. It’s a beautiful thing. Giving all the knowledge of the world to all the people of the world, all you need is an internet connection. Breaking down the barriers of education, disrupting the flow of knowledge moreso than anything in history. Knowledge is for all, it’s all here, it’s up to you to decide what you do with it.
The details of how Wikipedia works, who curates it ,who submits, who approves it, are not important in this piece. I’m not here to question the idea of democratically created history. History written by the online intellectual classes, by an online democracy, it is what it is and on the whole it’s a better world in which we live in as a result. It’s one of the defining aspects of the Internet, it doens’t cost you anything – but Jimmy Wales would like you to donate if possible to keep it running, you can’t run on venture capital and philanthropy forever, or can you?
But tomorrow, Wikipedia will be gone. There will be a big empty space in the very fabric of the internet. Wikipedia claim 100 million English speaking people will be affected by their blackout tomorrow, with the only pages viewable being articles on SOPA and PIPA. In theory that could mean 100 million people who will now know about what SOPA and PIPA represent. Potentially the greatest awareness protest of all time.
What does this mean for the world though? For those who don’t really care about things, they just want to get on with life, you know ,the kind of people who sign away their entire life, history, future and personal photos over to social networks willingly like they never read 1984 (they probably haven’t). They won’t be able to use a tool that they probably use every day. Anecdotally, whenever I google something, 9 times out of 10 the top result is to Wikipedia. tomorrow, all those top results will be meaningless. What is out there in the wilderness beyond the top results?
Tomorrow is the Day the Internet Stood Still.