Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wiki World

A “wiki” is a collaborative website—it allows users to add and edit content.

In many ways, this is a wonderful development, one yet to be understood. Researchers have explored and are exploring how “group think” can yield better results than individuals. The idea is old—Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the market place, for example, presented similar claims. However, Smith’s model demanded perfect knowledge for all players, an ideal not likely realized. “Group think,” however, starts with the notion that even “primitive” creatures, like ants and bees, possess the ability to make collective decisions far beyond the ability of any individual insect, and that yes, humans also can exhibit this potential. Management theory, organizational behavior studies and more all offer similar accounts of the phenomenon.

“Wiki” is also Hawaiian for “quick,” though, and I fear that’s the main attraction.

I visit a couple of discussion boards regularly. One of them, a Gorean board, frequently gets versions of the same question over and over—What is Gor? (or various attacks on Gor). The board has a search function, as members repeatedly note, but this is too much trouble for many users. Some do try, and then complain that they couldn’t immediately get the answers they sought. Not wiki enough.

A few even claim to be well versed while admitting they’ve never read a Gor novel—kinda like the student who reads e-notes instead of the novel and then bitches the teacher doesn’t appreciate student “work.” Even better—the student who raises a hand in class and says, “Well, I didn’t read it, but I think the character meant that…”

On a blogging board, one member asked how fellow bloggers conduct research. The answers were sad—most said they don’t research at all, and those who did, relied on other bloggers (who, apparently, didn’t research either). Easy, but isn’t that just gossip? Several of those bloggers want to be serious writers—yet have missed that publication after publication stresses that they seek “well-researched” pieces. Not wiki.

I asked a class experimenting with blogs which ones presented the best writing. “The short ones!” insisted a few students. So Harry Potter would be better if just a few paragraphs?

They don’t even “wiki” well—I have to show them how to use Google to narrow searches, how to search for blogs, how to find out how to add advertising to their blogs, even though these links all appear on Google’s home page, the first place they go for information.

Another class, struggling with interpreting an assigned article in group sessions, clearly dragged its collective feet, finally admitting, “We’re just waiting for you to step in and make it all right.” Apparently, I have all the answers?

But that is what many people want. Problems abroad? Bomb ‘em. Economic woes? Just cut taxes (why don’t we eliminate them—then the government can magically fund itself with no money!). Hey, why even have government? Surely we don’t need those annoying police, firemen, road crews…

And on it goes, while people vote for politicians whose positions contradict their own, just because someone fed them the right line, pushed the right button, making it all easy. Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.”

Wiki World.


1 comment:

Bilbo said...

I believe you and I are sharing a common brain on this. Nowadays everyone goes for the quick sound bite rather than the in-depth analysis. No one wants to spend the time in research to get the full view of any issue. Getting it fast is better than getting it right. Nevertheless, wasn't it Mark Twain who said he was writing his correspondent a long letter because he didn't have enough time to write a short one? Sometimes quality and quantity don't go together. Nice post - thanks for the commentary on an important issue.