Africa, Birds & Birding, Books, Life, Student Life

Wikipedia – A Good Story of the 2010's Decade

Every time I see a new bird I look it up and learn all about it, its scientific name and which other birds its related to. Just recently Steve in Aussie sent me his picture of a ‘Bush Stone Curlew’ nesting on an island in a parking lot.

That immediately reminded me of our water dikkops – I looked it up and ‘strues Bob’ they’re cousins – his is Burhinus grallarius and ours is Burhinus vermiculatus; Gondwanaland cousins.

– Steve’s Bush Stone Curlew – our Water Thick-knees – both Burhinus –

When I see historical facts I’ve never heard of I look it up and learn something new every day.

Who is Irvin S Cobb? I didn’t know; now I like him; he wrote these instructions for his funeral:

Above all I want no long faces and no show of grief at the burying ground. Kindly observe the final wishes of the undersigned and avoid reading the so-called Christian burial service which, in view of the language employed in it, I regard as one of the most cruel and paganish things inherited by our forebears from our remote pagan ancestors. . . . . perhaps the current pastor would consent to read the 23rd Psalm, my mother’s favorite passage in the Scriptures . . . it contains no charnel words, no morbid mouthings about corruption and decay and, being mercifully without creed or dogma, carries no threat of eternal hell-fire for those parties we do not like, no direct promise of a heaven which, if one may judge by the people who are surest of going there, must be a powerfully dull place, populated to a considerable and uncomfortable degree by prigs, time-servers and unpleasantly aggressive individuals. Hell may have a worse climate but undoubtedly the company is sprightlier. The Catholics, with their genius for stage-management, handle this detail better. The officiating clergyman speaks in Latin and the parishioners, being unacquainted with that language are impressed by the majesty of the rolling, sonorous periods without being shocked by distressing allusions and harrowing references.

How are Canadian and Eurasian beavers different – they look identical and Canadian beavers have even been introduced into Europe? One has 40 chromosomes, one has 48. Completely different animals! They just look and behave (almost) identically!

Obviously, I did all this on Wikipedia.

I was therefore thrilled to see motherjones.com has hailed Wikipedia as one of its Heroes of the 2010’s decade. I don’t like the overuse of the word ‘hero’ – I’m being so restrained here – but motherjones is American, so the ubiquitous American concept of hero – ‘anyone I like,’ it seems – is probably not amiss here.

Here’s motherjones:

This was the decade we learned to hate the internet, to decry its impact on our brains and society and to detest the amoral organizations that dominate it. Facebook steals our data and abets Trump’s lies. Amazon is a brick-and-mortar–crushing behemoth, like the Death Star but successful. Instagram is for narcissists. Reddit is for racists and incels. Twitter verifies Nazis.

Amid this horror show, there is Wikipedia, criminally under-appreciated, a nonprofit compendium of human knowledge maintained by everyone. There is no more useful website. It is browsable and rewards curiosity without stealing your preferences and selling them to marketers. It is relaxing to read. 

It’s wrong sometimes, sure. But so are you, so am I, and so are all your other sources – and most of them, there’s nothing you can do about it. On wikipedia, you can. Its transparency is a big plus. Wikipedia critics often seem to think ‘encyclopedias’ are better – you know, ‘encyclopedia brittanica’ anyone? Hell, those books are out of date long before they’re printed. That really is (early) last century! Many of its critics say you have to go to the academic source and read the latest research. Well, many of the custodians of those places are knowledge-hoggers, wanting to protect ’eminence’ rather than sharing knowledge. Well, phansi with them, I say. Phansi!

If you actually know something is wrong on Wikipedia, become an editor (full disclosure, I’m one – a very inactive one) and fix the info – don’t withhold, share!

With wikipedia you can – indeed you should always – check sources. Use the footnotes. Some pages need more information? You can add some. Governments, political figures, institutions – especially dodgy ones – or lackeys and fans of those politicians, ‘celebrities,’ or institutions may manipulate the info on themselves. Liars will always lie. But because it’s transparent, they usually get caught. Wikipedia has rules against “conflict-of-interest editing,” which you can read about at “Conflict-of-interest editing on Wikipedia.”

Founded in 2001, Wikipedia has spent the 2010s getting better and bigger. It now has over 377 million pages of info. It is a hero of the 2010s, because while the internet mostly got worse, it kept getting better, reminding us that the web can be a good thing, a place where we have instant access to endless information, a true project of the commons at a political moment when the very idea of the mutual good is under assault.

And it is free in a good way, not “free” like facebook and google which end up OWNING YOU.

(So I just sent Wikipedia my annual donation via paypal)

~~~oo0oo~~~

‘strues Bob’ – wragtig; true as Bob; verily

phansi! – down! as in ‘Down With . . ‘

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