Monday, June 16, 2008

Who Knew We Needed an Encyclopedia?

Mark Bernstein brings up the point that has always baffled me:

Wikipedia bursts triumphantly on the scene just as everyone had pretty much abandoned hope for the memory of Mortimer Adler's grand project to revive the encyclopedia.

Later... I guess this is a little different than I'd put it. Not so much that people had abandoned hope, but that the whole idea of an encyclopedia seemed antiquated. It is an enlightenment idea, certainly not a post-modern one.

This is, of course, closely related to Mark's later point that "it's been a full generation since people really believed that a neutral point of view was either possible or desirable."


jackson blossom said...

Indeed, a neutral point of view is too often nested in having no view, and we have entire institutions resting on the edifice of the latter.

Ed said...

Wikipedia is amazingly popular for something that is "antiquated".

Let me suggest that Wikipedia isn't a classical encyclopedia because it's not intended to be complete either in breadth or in depth. If it's reasonable to think of post-modernism as putting a nail in the coffin of the enlightenment encyclopedia, is it possible that Wikipedia reflects a post-post-modern sensibility? Maybe neutrality is not possible, maybe reality is fractal, maybe there's no privileged point of view... and yet there's an awful lot that we feel we know and agree on, and a lot of value in having that all assembled (however imperfectly) and accessible.

Barbara said...

I'm not sure how many on wikipedia really believe in the achievability or desirability of a neutral point of view as opposed to merely the utility of the rule to keep the thing from exploding. Constant negotiation, not necessarily progressing towards a stable center... you could say the collection of articles over time becomes the real 'article'.

And then if you consider archived NPOV disputes on talk pages part of the 'article' too... lots of info in those talk page disputes that wasn't in ye olde encyclopedia.