Sunday, May 3, 2015

Wikipedia II

Last year I discussed an unpleasant episode that I had with Wikipedia. Out of curiosity I have been checking from time to time on the Wikipedia entry for Lorrie Moore, which had caused the controversy, and I've noticed that it has changed a lot during this period. The interesting thing is that the contents vary considerably without necessarily improving. In early 2014, it was predominantly hagiography, presumably entered by her fans or possibly her publisher (or her?). I added some unfavorable reviews of Bark when it was published, which were soon deleted and replaced with positive reviews. Shortly after that, John reentered the negative review by Michiko Kakutani. That stood for quite some time, but was eventually deleted, and then the entry became entirely hagiographic again until recently. Currently the entry is pared back and contains nothing more than basic facts, such as Lorrie Moore's education, works, employment history and awards. The only description of her work is that she is "known mainly for her humorous and poignant short stories." No reviews or blurbs are included.

What I've learned from this is that Wikipedia's model doesn't actually work the way it's supposed to. Rather than producing articles that improve over time through wide discussion among a variety of interested parties, with oversight from Wikipedia representatives, the content of an article can meander unpredictably, with changing information, varying opinions and no increase in clarity. At any given time a small number of people - one or two - may completely dominate the content of an entry. If an entry is of great interest to a large number of people, I suppose there is a better chance of balance than there is for a minor entry read by very few.

Since my interaction with Wikipedia was so off-putting, I have tried to use it as little as possible. Unfortunately, that is what usually pops up first when you Google anything. I find this annoying, because the quality of Wikipedia entries is always uneven. When there is a comparable entry from a different source, it is often more informative and better written. In addition to the problems of bias and incomplete information, one must deal with a disjointed writing style - it's as if a self-appointed committee of teenagers has decided to write a five-hundred-word essay with each member contributing one sentence. This is never likely to result in the kind of coherence one might expect from a single author who has expertise in a subject.

Wikipedia, it seems, is something we're stuck with now, whether we like it or not. It has become the generic "short answer" to just about everything. In a world of tweets and likes, it will probably remain popular among young people, who increasingly seem to lack a conception of "in depth." Wikipedia is similar to a virus that has no antidote in sight. Speaking for myself, I make an effort to restrict my use of it to serious topics such as "George Clooney" or "Taylor Swift."

On a side note, in the process of making space in the bookshelves, I removed all of the books by Lorrie Moore and donated them to the local library.


  1. A recent 3 Quarks article discussed the findings that if ppl are prep'ed ahead of time to like a person that when they do talk/meet the audience are predisposed to like them. That loosely reminded me of this and that Moore's writing has deteriorated but she is able to rest on her laurels. I feel similar to Sarah Palin although never liked her in the first place. Hard to change this phenomena as people are too busy reading about Clooney and Swift (like you ha ha). The press deems what is 'important' and are changing society for the worse. A broad statement I know and I do realize they are in it for the money and entertainment is big money.

  2. As far as the media goes, it has been dumbing down the public ever since TV took off. Of course, this all falls within what I've been saying about the destructive effects of capitalism. Wikipedia and most websites actually play into this trend, because they discourage critical thinking. One of the reasons I have this blog is that it is the only place where I can publicly express what I think and not be attacked immediately by someone who thinks that my ideas are a threat to their fantasy world. On matters of opinion, Wikipedia typically has little or nothing to say. In this sense it is similar to network news, which removed editorial segments long ago. Under these conditions it is easy for people like Moore to rest on their laurels, because they have already developed extensive networks within the American literary community and if someone dislikes their writing they will simply read something else without making a fuss. Business interests find it profitable to herd consumers into living in the present and feeling insecure about not having what is currently popular. They don't care whether the tide will turn in fiction in twenty years or whether Lorrie Moore becomes a footnote to a footnote in literary history. Even the so-called literary community is under a spell, because they don't realize just how mediocre they are and no one will tell them.