1. Personalized learning
How long can you spend clicking through Wikipedia URLs? Have you followed footnotes to strange and wonderful places when you should’ve been working or sleeping? (Curiosity sparked? Face glowing in screen light?)
Isaac Asimov hoped for this. He envisioned a future in which personal computers were widely available, imagined it’d be a liberating and enfranchising step beyond the mass-education of public schooling that itself liberated and enfranchised by popularizing literacy and offering a merit-based path to excel to vast numbers of people.
With Wikipedia, we leap over the problems of one-size-fits-all learning. We can learn fast or slow, in spurts and deep dives, whenever curiosity bites. No chapters. No limits.
2. Wiki is a primo discovery platform
Wikipedia provides a much better way to find information beyond its pages than your high school history book. Because it’s on the internet.
Footnotes to Wikipedia articles are often hyperlinks, not titles of sources printed in ink on paper. If you wanted to read a book referenced in your history text, you’d google it. You might find a pdf online, you could buy it and have the option to overnight it to your doorstep, or, if you’re quaint, look up the library or bookstore where you could pick it up.
From Wikipedia, you’re a tab away from those resources. Wikipedia’s digital neighbors are countless, current, old, weird, and growing daily. Access to the most voluminous compendium of crap and credible information ever assembled is a click away.
3. With Wikipedia, you know what you’re getting
Jaron Lanier’s problem with Wikipedia is that it emphasizes, subtly and somewhat insidiously, the wisdom of crowds over the knowledge, insight, and creativity of an individual person. The process of creating a Wikipedia article, he sees as inscrutable, not giving credit where credit is due, and reinforcing bad habits in danger of being “locked in” online.
But, when compared with your high school history book, Wikipedia is a beacon of transparency. Your history book is a product of cloistered academia and specialized education imprints of publishing houses. Slow moving beasts, the both of them, with biases and flaws not nearly easily corrected. With Wikipedia, we know we’re getting a living, evolving imperfect and empowering animal.
4. History is a (subjective) narrative
The fact that Wikipedia’s pages are constantly changing reminds us that history is a story we compile from evidence that can be interpreted in varying ways by people with different POVs. Your high school textbook presents history as one sturdy agreed upon narrative. Wiki is a good reminder to check ourselves and think about how we know what we know.
5. Wikipedia is the future
Learning is out the ivory tower, linked with personal interest and current goings-on, taking place 24/7 online.That’s a good thing.
We’ve got to address the concerns of authorship raised by Lanier, and we might have to abandon “biographies of living persons” as an article category frequently pranked (hilariously) and rarely 100% factual. Wikipedia can’t replace great teachers. It’ll probably never be the tool sanctioned by the world’s august learning institutions (at least outwardly, publicly), but it’s where were going. If we appreciate and fight for it, we can make it better.