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English Detective # 94 Wikipedia & the value of knowledge 11-7-17
November 07, 2017

Has the value of knowledge changed now that the Internet makes it more widely available? Are people more or less interested in learning, as television and social media’s image-heavy, emotional appeals compete with it for attention?

Here are four perspectives on the value and uses of knowledge in the Internet age. (There is also a little related vocabulary practice below the picture.) Three of these articles focus on Wikipedia: “arguably the largest collaborative effort in the history of mankind.” (from “How Wikipedia Changed the World”—link below.)

That article describes the success of a very unlikely project: an all-volunteer effort to share the world’s knowledge. It tells a fascinating story of the way Wikipedia grew into an essential resource for school children—and everyone else. has two articles that examine two very different aspects of Wikipedia. One article looks at the importance—and risk—of the Arabic Wikipedia, making information and different points of view available in a region where governments sometimes want to control the sources of information. (Maybe most governments ‘want’ to control it, and try to do so. The last years have made it clear that people in democratic western nations also can find that the news and information they need has been manipulated and twisted.)

In any case, the editors of Arabic Wikipedia face some unique challenges, from protecting the IP addresses of their contributors to retaining their rights to emphasize local perspectives.

Wired also has a philosophical opinion article about the increasing difficulties Wikipedia has in getting contributors to write and edit articles.

The author believes this is part of a larger problem—a devaluing of knowledge and of critical thought. “In an image-centered and pleasure-driven world… there is no place for rational thinking, because you simply cannot think with images. It is text that enables us to ‘uncover lies, confusions and overgeneralizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense.’” I question whether images and emotion are opposed to thought, but the author makes some very interesting arguments.

The fourth, shorter article, by a former top Google executive, argues that an individual’s knowledge is no longer power, and that it’s much better to cooperate and share knowledge with others. Information is too easily available now to give a major advantage to the person who has it. He concludes “Rather than trying to hoard something that can be easily acquired, share your knowledge… when you have a room full of smart people sharing their knowledge, there’s very little you can’t accomplish together.”

Knowledge Vocabulary

To collect is to gather or bring together related materials. A collector is a person who brings together a collection of related things: postage stamps, old tools, Norwegian or African or Mexican recipes-- or songs or toys, etc.

To contribute is to add something of value to a project or cause. A contributor gives money or time or some other contribution to a group or cause he or she wants to support.

To edit is to revise and improve a piece of writing before publishing it. An editor is the person who does that checking and polishing; an edition is one version that is published. (Some important books, encyclopedias, etc. may be edited many different times and re-published in new, corrected editions.)

A founder is a person who starts a company, university, or even a country. (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and a few others are the founders or founding fathers of the U.S. government.) A foundation is a type of non-profit organization that provides money or help to good causes.

A volunteer is a person who contributes time to a project he or she believes in without being paid. (Volunteer can also be a verb. People can volunteer for a community project, for a church or organization, or even to fight for their country in a war.)

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