The random endorsement: Wikipedia


There was controversy when I endorsed the movie “Once” last week, primarily because some folks (where “some folks” is defined as one of my friends) argued that movie reviews have no place on a tech site. Well, hater(s), this is my column and I’ll endorse whatever the heck I want. Today, though, I’m bringing it back to tech.

Wikipedia, you just got endorsed.

Wikipedia has replaced Google in my life, as far as looking up information is concerned (as opposed to maps and e-mail and so forth). I use it both for work—when did that phone come out? what studios exclusively support Blu-ray?—and for fun—which Crash Test Dummies did I have growing up?, how much is De Beers worth?, how great is Arrested Development?—which makes me both a nerd and jerk.

On top of that, Wikipedia helped me ace my political science final exams that I took on Tuesday and Wednesday. So much for it being inaccurate.

I took two exams this week, one in a class called Western European Politics and the other in National Security. Briefly, Western Euro dealt with the changing landscape of politics in Western Europe, how the democracies of the UK, France, Germany and Italy came about, what’s the deal with the EU as an institution, etc. National Sec was about the Patriot Act (which I defended), the scarcity of oil and why Saudi Arabia matters so much (generally, it has plenty of oil but doesn’t use it, therefore it can control world prices), and so on. Wikipedia has so much information on these topics, often in infinitely more readable prose than that of my overpriced textbooks.

Like, check this out. From this one little chart, I was able to gain a spatial understanding of the the EU’s three pillars: who does what and where, who hooked up with whom at the party on Saturday night, etc. One chart, no doubt put together by some busybody with too much time on his hands, brought it all home in a way that my awful textbook spent six or so pages struggling to describe.

I remember when I was taking an astronomy class two years ago, I would often look up concepts and theories on Wikipedia because the textbook we used did such a terrible job of explaining it. Oh, that’s what a parsec is. So kids, don’t listen to your teachers when they say Wikipedia can’t be trusted, because it totally can be. I mean, use your better judgment, obviously. Once, for example, I wanted to check what information Wikipedia had on dĂ©tente, maybe something that my awful textbook left out. Yet the entry for detente was describing something like Israel’s role in shaping U.S. foreign policy in vaguely anti-Semitic terms. Something clearly was amiss. Ten minutes later I refreshed the page and all the correct info was there. See, self-policing works.

School work aside, I certainly can’t be the only person who goes on Wikipedia to look up things like old Nickelodeon TV shows and to learn the entire history of FC Barcelona in English, Spanish and Catalan?. It’s such a time sink.

Wikipedia, you have greatly enhanced my quality of life. Thank you very much.