Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I looked up Wikipedia in the Wikipedia. What would you expect to find? I mean, how reliable is the thing? The entry was long and boring, but droll! And it's footnoted more than any other entry in the whole database! [Citation needed.]

I use Wikipedia all the time for its extensive pop culture references and find it to be a super handy tool with its 12 million articles. Is everything on it accurate? No, but anything free in this life is usually fake, useless, tasteless, and littered with advertisements. Wikipedia makes for interesting reading, when taken with salt. Some people read celebrity tabloids, I read Wikipedia -faults, salt, and all. Anyway, it's probably more accurate than this or any dumb blog.

I remember something funny. Senator Barbara Boxer was on a radio talkshow one day and the interviewer mentioned her position on some issue and had a problem with her reconciling the position with her having had several failed marriages. She denied that this was true and the interviewer said, "Well it's right here in Wikipedia!" They laughed, he apologized. She said she would get her people on it, which sounded like an utterly Sisyphean task. I don't envy celebrities. (Wait, maybe it was Dianne Feinstein.)

In addition to being unreliable, Wikipedia is broke. They don't make any money, they don't have any money. How the thing stays afloat is a mystery to modern man, but it floats like pumice. It's like water and electricity coming to your house and sewage going away -how does it all work? No one really knows, and as soon as someone figures it all out, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something else even more bizarre and inexplicable. [Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy]

I used to read the encyclopedia as a kid. It was a good book. My family encyclopedia was a thirty volume set from the 50s. I grew up in the 70s, so you might imagine that that presented a certain set of problems: country's names were wrong, presidents were missing, animals had become extinct, etc. Especially interesting to me were all the hypotheticals on space travel, totally outdated. In college I read the dictionary. (I know: YAWN.) But I always held that everything ever written was in the dictionary, it was just out of order. You know that old bit about the infinite monkeys at an infinite set of typewriters sooner or later creating the complete works of Shakespeare? Well, that would just be a happy accident. What the monkeys are really going for is The Oxford English Dictionary. Today I still read the dictionary, but I have a handy widget on my computer desktop. I don't even have to get up from my desk! (Here's a good word, though from a different language: "Ilunga". Utterly fascinating.)

I like all guides, maps, dictionaries, encyclopedias, summaries, definitions, and informational placards at museums and National Parks. Leave me alone and I will read every one, but nowadays I bring the kids along and I just fly by, looking at the pictures. No one has the time or patience anymore, myself included, but on the Internet it's all filed away for my retirement, when I can ease back the chaise-lounge and read everything on some empty Kauai beach. Hovering robots will bring me cocktails and a towel.

And I like databases. They are awesome. Good databases must be thorough and accessible. I'm making one now on our wedding. It has 1,928 photographs, complete with scans of all stationary, ceremony scripts, and itineraries. I'm almost finished. When I'm done I will put it in an exotic, handcrafted box and use it as a lampstand. It will be a nostalgic thing of wonder and beauty.

No one will ever read it.