Worried about Wikipedia – A Bit of Web Philosophy

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When I started writing for OutletPC about a year ago, I knew next to nothing about computers, (a fact which I tried desperately to hide during my interview). The first day I sat down at work, mostly just writing product descriptions, I was greeted by fifteen or twenty USB and SATA Controller Cards. Most of you reading this probably don’t know what a Controller Card is. If you do, congratulations; you know more about computers than I did on my first day working for a computer company. I didn’t really even know what SATA was back then. And yet, there I was, tasked with writing accurate descriptions and explaining to people why in the world they would actually want a controller card. Of course, being fresh out of college, I knew exactly what to do. I turned to Google.

Over the last year, I’ve received a surprisingly complete education on the in’s and out’s of Computerdom using nothing but Google. Of course, I recognize that my enlightenment is far from complete; I still learn loads every day. But with twelve months of concentrated tutelage under such renowned teachers as Wikipedia, Tom’s Hardware, TechTerms.com, and other such sites, I (usually) feel pretty comfortable in my grasp of technology.

While I choose to focus on computers, the same quality of learning I received could be gotten on virtually any subject. Want to learn how to fix your car? Check out www.2carpros.com or autorepair.about.com. Want to become a world-class cook? Start with www.wikihow.com/Cook and then hit Youtube and watch The Food Network show “Good Eats.” Just running a recipe search in Google will allow you to filter meals by ingredients, calorie counts, and cook times! Learning today requires only a few clicks and enough time to read.

How is this flood of information going to shape society? I was born in 1983, and I only have the vaguest idea of what it was like to learn without the internet. My folks bought our first computer when I was twelve; I ran Warcraft II in DOS, typed my homework in Microsoft Works, and got my first email address, bats24@juno.com. Even then, however, with a dial-up internet connection, I had access to Grolier’s Encyclopedia, Yahoo! search, and other tools that made the dictionaries and encyclopedias on my dad’s bookshelf obsolete. My kids will never know a world where humanity’s collective comprehension of the universe isn’t one Google search away. They’ll grow up in a world where the only excuse for not knowing why the sky is blue is because they’ve never taken the time to ask.

My biggest fear for them is, I suppose, that the ease of it all will make them too lazy and too complacent to ask the questions, or that the inundation will leave them too numb to foster the curiosity needed to follow through to an answer. Even I have to force myself to actually read a Wikipedia article rather than just skim for the answer I’m looking for. What chance do they have?

What do you think? I would be the last person to say that the rise of the search engine as a means of learning is a bad thing, but it does worry me. Should I be? Comment below and let me know what you think!

Don’t forget to shop OutletPC for all your computery stuff and check out my anti-printer rant Harbinger of the Robot Uprising: The Printer.

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