Wikiality. A few months ago Stephen Colbert invented this word while praising Wikipedia for having a longer listing for “truthiness“ than it did for Lutherans. I have to echo his enthusiasm. Wikipedia serves a wonderful purpose in that it spares me the embarrassment of admitting when I don’t know something. Rather than having to ask someone and get a raised eyebrow in response, I just type in a few words and the wonderful world of Wiki enlightens me.
What was up with that huge red moon that appeared for a night last month? It’s called a hunter’s moon! In the event of nuclear war, will cockroaches really inherit the earth? Thankfully, no. They’re no more resistant to radiation than a fruit fly. There’s even an entry for “why.” Next time your 3-year-old asks that question, just refer them to Wikipedia.
Wikipedia represents the ability of the internet to democratize knowledge. You don’t need to sit in a class on French history to learn that there was a short-lived French king known as John the Posthumous, you only need to click the random article button. Are you sitting on a precious knowledge nugget about poor dead John? Hit “edit this page” and make society a better place. Want to claim credit for inventing the French fry? Make your voice heard, my Belgian friend! Disagree with the definition of “tyrant?” Rally enough of your internet friends and have the definition ousted! (Although I must warn you, the editing feature on the George W. Bush entry has been disabled).
Along the same vein of bringing knowledge to the masses is the Open Courseware program started by MIT and available through several universities now. Through this initiative, thousands of courses from top schools are available to anyone who has access to the internet. Professors post streaming lectures, notes, homework assignments — virtually everything but the actual classroom atmosphere itself is available online. The goal is to open education to everyone and create a global learning community
I’ll be interested to see how popular and accessed this project becomes. I’m all for knowledge for the sake of knowledge, as you can tell by my Wikipedia queries. But I have to wonder, who benefits from this? I’ve been pondering this question since I heard ND was adding courses to OCW. Obviously this is a wonderful and noble venture, as everyone with access to the internet can have access to many of the resources of a top rate education whether they can pay or not. Globally, this has very positive implications. But here in America, we live in a society that has become so driven by achievement, why even bother?
I have heard friends lament the downward spiral of the liberal arts education. It seems many universities, ND included, have started focusing so much on cranking out business and pre-professional students that they’ve started to look like vocational schools, leaving the traditional liberal arts in the dust. Students enter college wondering what is going to get them a good job and secure paycheck. I myself have complained that though I loved studying political science, I graduated with basically no marketable skills. In fact, shortly after graduation a friend asked, “So what are you going to do now, open a political science store?”
You can’t earn a degree from OCW, there is no line to add to your CV, it’s not going to pay any bills or put food on the table. So is it even relevant in the results-oriented culture that we live in?