Wikifitti, Pt. II

28 08 2007

This response comes from one of the finest and most entertaining minds in the BU Class of 2007 — albeit a mind that speaks with a Charles-River-thick Boston accent…Steve Macone.

Altoid319 (8:43:28 AM): it’s a good point [about Wikifitti], but do you really want to destroy the notion of the fact? I dont think you do, really, down deep.
Altoid319 (8:45:01 AM): is it that the idea of wikifitti is a sort of lesser evil, a more benign way of reminding us that much of what we read on wikipedia is false. It’s a lot more fun, and doesnt feel as horrible, to find that we are reading something that is one big joke than to read an entry that is one big PR campaign..

That prompt brings us to EPISTEMOLOGY HOUR, sponsored by questions like these and art like this (thanks to Mr. Matthew Rosazza):

Education

May I suggest a tall glass of whisky and perhaps the accompaniment of the vinyl version of the seminal masterpiece, ‘Girlfriend,’ by Avril Lavigne.
Firstly, I don’t want to destroy the notion of fact. Because the notion of fact, not the reality of fact, is our sherpa in life. The pursuit of truth and the hope that such a damn thing exists keeps us from plummetting too far into an existential fog. Without the assumption of truth, there’s nothing to hang onto. We need some pillars around which to wrap our lives. But, Voltaire said (right, Voltaire?), if God did not exist, it would be necessary to create one. Same goes with truth. If you’re trying to keep afloat, anything that floats will do, not just life jackets. You can settle for what works.

So, to get along, we don’t need facts themselves. Rather, we need to accept things as facts, to buy into something. People claim this willingness to accept anything is a generational thing, that we’re a less educated and less discerning group than those before us. It’s not. We have adapted. We’re required to be a bit less discerning, more individualized, more able to buzz through decisions. We’ve become a world so inundated by facts — 24-hour news networks, seamlessly updated news sites, good blogs and terrible blogs (like this one) — that you almost have to make flash decisions on the validity of facts, leading to a number of fun things, like the public acceptance of Restless Leg Syndrome.

But if the truth’s out there, it takes a lot of work to find it. Accepting truths without reflection leads to things like diving headfirst into a Middle Eastern prairie that absolutely, doubtlessly, you’re-goddamn-rightedly has Weapons of Mass Destruction. Or thinking that American beer is just Bud, Miller or Coors. Or that we’re disaffected and passionless. Never let anybody older tell you we’re disaffected and passionless.

That’s why I love the idea of Wikifitti. It mocks things purported to be the truth. These entries are, in essence, collections of simple stories. Strung-together anecdotes whose writing tends to trip on itself. Wikipedia doesn’t offer biographies; it offers glimpses. Granted, these are stories told by a number of writers (kind of like the Bible), so they’re perhaps less biased. But they’re stories nonetheless. And stories are selected facts. A story isn’t everything that happened, Hemingway said, it’s everything important.

But how do we choose what’s important? If we write our life stories, how would we do it? Would peeing your pants be included? How about getting cut from teams, turned down for dances and dates, blasted by acne, embarrassed on the field, etc.? Or would we be heroes and pick what’s relevant to our final goal, the theme of the piece — a process that ends up in embellishment. And if you care enough to post something on Wikipedia, you care enough to make it yours, to own a piece of literature (and thus enough to embellish it). Wikifitti is a battle against that. By undermining pages, it reveals the editorial process that these writers go through…which is, in essence, a keyboard and mouse (at least at first). It forces people to re-think how quickly they accept facts.

So enjoy the e-vandalism. It keeps us grounded. On guard. Vigilant against the unexamined acceptance of truths, and heading toward something higher. Don’t hang onto the floating logs too long that they keep you from swimming ashore (the ultimate goal, right?).

That metaphor sucked. My apologies. Blame the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company.

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