Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wikipedia and Information Overload

In the epilogue, Neil Postman describes how humans were able to effectively find new ways to access and store information, but in doing so, “…created a new problem never experienced before: information glut, information incoherence, information meaninglessness” (390). In some ways, I agree with this statement, especially when we consider the Internet and the huge amount of information it provides. Lance Strate recently posted an article about how the print form of encyclopedias is gradually becoming obsolete, being replaced with online versions or Wikipedia. But going along with Postman’s statement, Wikipedia shows how just too much information about an endless amount of topics can eventually lead to meaninglessness or triviality. A recent article discusses the fate of Wikipedia:

“…Wikipedia is facing an identity crisis as it is torn between two alternative futures. It can either strive to encompass every aspect of human knowledge, no matter how trivial; or it can adopt a more stringent editorial policy and ban articles on trivial subjects, in the hope that this will enhance its reputation as a trustworthy and credible reference source.” (from "The battle for Wikipedia's soul")

Wikipedia, being open to the public, is causing a large amount of trivial information, which I suppose it what Postman would consider, “disconnected from theory, meaning, and purpose” (390) (the author of the article gives the example of how there are more articles that are more in depth about Pokemon characters than a topic that could be more meaningful and worth learning about, such as the Solidarity movement in Poland). I can see why some consider it a problem. There is just so much information on the Internet that probably, to the majority of people, would seem useless and when an information source like Wikipedia is overloaded with generally pointless information that means nothing to them (unless maybe if they’re a fan of something), the value of it as something that could help people is lowered. Though on the other hand, perhaps all of this information helps to build an information source of the kind of culture that humans have (even if it might seem useless). Then again, maybe it’s similar to how news stations might focus more on celebrity news than what is going on in the world.

Another point that Postman mentions is how people who enjoy virtual reality, communicating with others electronically, and watching television “refuse to acknowledge what their real problem is—respectively, boringness, friendlessness, thoughtlessness” (391). This is true in some ways; he even says that it is because these activities, with the help of technology, do nothing to help “touch life’s deepest problems” (391). Though I think technology has helped create new ways of communication that were not possible in the past. In Gary Gumpert and Susan J. Drucker’s essay, “From Locomotion to Telecommunication, or Paths of Safety, Streets of Gore,” they say that the Internet is considered “more secure” and “nonthreatening” (35), which is true, considering also the amount of anonymity it can provide, which allows people to perhaps interact in ways they would not in real life. It lets us interact with people across the world that we would probably never meet without the Internet (though I guess one could travel and interact with people), and allows spontaneous interaction and possibly gain knowledge about another culture but interacting with them. In John M. Phelan’s chapter, “CyberWalden: The Online Psychology of Politics and Culture,” he says, “Distance apart, cyberspace is a humanizing device for creating a kind of ersatz office/pub/common room/ public square area for those deprived, rather cruelly, of one or more versions of the real thing” (52) It seems that many of the things the authors in these chapters say is putting cyberspace and the Internet in a negative light. Perhaps they are emphasizing that even though these technologies can provide so much interaction and information, interactions we have with people face-to-face and performing activities with other people are just as important in shaping the way that humans live.


Lance Strate said...

I like the way you grapple with the pros and cons here, Fiona. And I don't think the fact that Wikipedia carries extensive information on trivial subjects prevents anyone from accessing the information it carries on serious subjects. But it does send a message that both are equally valid. You might say that print reference works, by the very nature of the medium, were forced to be selective, and this reinforced the idea of trying to separate the true from the false, and the significant from the insignificant. Now that we have essentially unlimited capacity, we lose the bias towards selectivity and discernment.

Jimmy Page said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jimmy Page said...

I agree with you Lance, as well as with F Ng's closing statement. I think it is imparitive to the well being of the human as a social animal using their increasing amount of time on the internet to balance accessing information, with interacting with other humans. I don't think that this necessarily means we should try and expand the internet into the most comprehensive means of accessing information possible. Your comments about the article "The Battle for Wikipedia's Soul" saying that, "the author of the article gives the example of how there are more articles that are more in depth about Pokemon characters than a topic that could be more meaningful and worth learning about, such as the Solidarity movement in Poland..." does not take into consideration the immensity of the internet. Our race has become so technologically advanced that we can access any type of information, despite its sophistication, in grave detail and almost instantaneously. I believe this opens more doors and fosters the idea that the internet can be used and appreciated by human beings of any class or stature, and can be useful for anyone.