Summary of Chapters
1. Gratis & Libre: The meaning of free
“…The Free Culture Movement is not opposed to the concepts of private property, of copyright itself or of commerce, but it does place culture at the level of a human right—something that should be accessible to all to irrespective of circumstance. Jimmy Wales noted that having a right to free speech is nothing if there is no reciprocal right to freely access that knowledge—they are two sides of the same coin.
Wikipedia was born into, and is now a standard bearer of, this movement. The idea of controlling knowledge is not new. The truism that knowledge is power has led to many in power attempting to retain and increase their standing through access or copy restriction, censorship, destruction or pricing…..”
2. Infinite Monkeys: Authorship and readership
“…If you sit an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters they will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. Or so the theorem goes. Wikipedia has used the concept of mass authorship more than any publication before it but it is by no means the first to do so. Are the authors of content at Wikipedia just “monkeys” sitting at typewriters or do they have a genuine contribution to make to scholarship? Further, if the author of a work is the one who determines its meaning, who determines the meaning of Wikipedia when no one editor controls an article any more than anyone else? Perhaps it is the readers who are the monkeys, requiring guidance to find the correct meaning. Or perhaps it is just “infinite monkeys providing infinite information for infinite readers, perpetuating the cycle of misinformation and mistrust.” In this second chapter the concepts of readership, mass authorship, the authority of knowledge, a culture of writing and efforts to create universal collections of knowledge will be discussed….”
3. Truth & Truthiness: Authenticating facts
“…Though “what is truth?” is a very old question, the varying ways of arriving at an answer are as fresh and contested as ever. Yet it is manifestly clear that truth exists—at the very least the veracity of events if not their meanings. Despite its claim to be an encyclopedia and therefore implicit claim to be correct, Wikipedia not only contains untruths and half-truths but also the possibility that either can be easily incorporated.
Though it has not always been so, contemporary practice in academia values “truth” most highly, at the same time recognising its conditionality and provisionality. The popular understanding of the term refers to whether an event did actually occur (i.e. the facts of the matter). Historiographically speaking, it also refers to an account that is faithful to its import (i.e. the meaning and significance of the matter)—a far more difficult undertaking. The first refers to the science of history—carbon-dating, ice-cores and the like (emanating from the theory of history espoused by von Ranke)—while the latter is a matter of interpretation that could be called the art of history—the realm of the dialectical argument and extrapolation of meaning (coming from a more Hegelian approach). So while the opposite of telling “truth” in popular terminology is to tell a lie, in history it is a far less straightforward matter. It is principally this second understanding of truth that is relevant here. While scientific facts in Wikipedia are relatively easy to include and easy to correct if wrong, historical interpretation is never so neat….”
4. Endless Palimpsest: The future’s historian
“…“Paris hic fuit” is one moment, of one man, in one society—frozen in time. This would not be notable but for the fact that this graffito was scrawled on a wall in Pompeii. It, along with many more items of everyday Latin, is now carefully preserved. Exactly equivalent “moments” happen daily on Wikipedia and, just as Paris’s fleeting writing is of interest to academics two millennia later, so might some otherwise unprepossessing text in Wikipedia’s archive be of interest to the linguists, historians or sociologists of the year 4000.
The utility of the internet for academic (or other) collaboration has been well and truly demonstrated—so much so that, over the last decade, to contribute to the field of history without using the internet would not only be impractical but highly improbable. This is in spite of professional history’s ambivalent attitude towards it—the internet is regarded as “prolific but unmediated, powerful but untamed, open to all but taken seriously by few.” And, though the collaborative potential of using wikis as a writing tool is becoming better known in both the business and academic worlds, they are not, nor should they be, a replacement for genuine interpersonal interaction and “white gloves” archive work. Nevertheless, the potential for “creating new forms of history that can only exist online” is great, but it is also an imperative if we wish to be able to study our own era and unlock “the promise of digital history”…”
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