Wikipedia and Me #7 – “the First of 7 Internet Wonders of the World“ and “Free Content”

270px-pyramids_of_egypt1Some teachers (I personally count them among my well-loved friends) protested vehemently against my last wikipedia-article “Against Bavarian High Schools” or “In Favour of Wikipedia”. I was told that wikipedia is, indeed, highly respected in high schools. But students are not encouraged to get all their knowledge exclusively from wikipedia, because students tend to totally rely on what they read therein and no longer take the pain to look for alternative sources of information, which dampens their enthusiasm for coming up with opinions of their own.

This is a danger I see myself – I even have to say that the reality is a lot worse than that. If a student has to write a thesis, the first thing he does will be to browse in google in order to find similar theses. Far too often, the student will just re-structure what he has found and attach his individual scent to it. Often, the same is true for diploma or master theses. Never before did so many students rely on copying and pasting, though I admit that we, too, occasionally copied other people’s works in pre-internet times. However, the habit was not as easily adapted and as wide-spread as it is today.

However, my first concern is something else, namely that wikipedia might be discredited in schools out of ignorance. That is something that really annoys me, because I am very busy trying to propagate an active and certainly also critical discussion on the social phenomenon Internet. And that is where wikipedia is a very important example. So let me formulate it once more rather drastically:

Personally, I believe that wikipedia is the first of 7 Internet Wonders of the World! For the commonly accepted Wonders of World, see wikipedia. Naturally, the picture on the upper left-hand corner is also from wikipedia (see again the article on wonders of the world). It is free content. What a phantastical idea! If there were no free content, the effort to, for example, illustrate a blog, would be gigantic!

I know that the concept of free content is not an unchallenged one. How to give security to authors and photographers? There is much to be taken into consideration. It goes without saying that theft of mental property must not be tolerated, let alone supported. And naturally, a professional photographer will not have an easier life for competition from amateurs. But technology has advanced and society will adapt to the change.

But why should we forbid dilettantes to make publicly available what they have produced with much love? By the way, the word dilettante has only recently come by a negative connotation. It used to be a positive way of saying that someone went about some business with a huge amount of work and accuracy for no commercial reasons, but rather for the love of it. Today, the products by dilettantes are often far better than the „convenient“ products by their professional competitors.

Let me repeat that I am deeply impressed by wikipedia. It starts with global co-operation across cultural, continental, linguistic and religious barriers. I am thrilled by how rules are collectively found, respected, lived by, adhered to and executed. It is fascinating how all changes of important activity-oriented criteria or rules are subject to democratic majority votes.

I find the extent of the project breathtaking and admire how the basic processes in wikipedia are solved and implemented in a very simple and yet highly efficient manner. To my mind, the speed at which the community reacts to offenses or random errors is sensational. I bow my knees before the content quality and the software reliability. And all this was generated by hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of world-wide bona fide volunteers who sacrifice a considerable part of their leisure time with enthusiasm for a great idea and their „dilettantism”.

And here comes another beautiful idea in favour of the shared work. Do you know the brilliant motto: “nobody is perfect – a team can be” (Kleinfeld and many other wise people said so before me). What better way to show the truth of the motto than a knowledge project spreading over all disciplines, such as wikipedia!
Sadly, however, many readers probably are not even aware of this. Unfortunately, wikipedia is “consumed” thoughtlessly without the consumer being aware of its special quality. This is where I wish to mention that a generous donation to wikipedia would certainly be a fair contribution to a good cause.

In my personal opinion, the relevance of the internet and its elements, such as wikipedia, is a lot higher for social evolution than the often cited “system relevance” of banks, for which hundreds of billions of Euros are spent!


Now I have two final requests:
If you are a parent of students at high schools, would you ask them how wikipedia is treated at school?
What is the „second wonder of the internet world“? Please help!

(Translated by Evelyn Gemkow)

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