The age of organic knowledge

If you’ve never edited a Wikipedia article, I recommend the experience. Suppose, while skimming through an article, you notice a misspelled word, stray comma, or grammatical peccadillo. Hop in there and fix it! It gives you a surprisingly warm rush. For a very small effort, you’ve made the world a better place.

Here’s the funny thing about our Modern Age: we are manufacturing legions of aimless web-addled click monkeys… but we’re also putting them to work. It takes so little effort to improve a wiki that they grow with manic speed. There has never been a better time to have attention deficit disorder. Which is a good thing because… because… where was I? Oh because there have never been more of us. Web sites that harness collective intelligence, even when it appears in tiny bursts, are working wonders.

I propose that the quantity of effort required to put a single character, one byte, into a working public document be called a “wik”. Never before in history has a wik been worth so much.

It used to be that in order to create informational value, which is to say something that would prove useful to other people, you had to write a book, or at least a news or magazine article. Writing like that requires research, extended periods of concentration, attention to detail. Very high wik counts. Word processing software helps, but mostly it saves you from the drudgery that comes after the hard work of thinking up the words. But web sites like the Wikipedia do something altogether new. In chemical terms, you might say that they lower the activation energy required for information fixing. A wiki acts as a sort of thermodynamic ratchet, enfranchising swarms of the easily distracted, people who would never add a book to a library. Let’s say a novel is half a megawik. Even a short blog post is a kilowik. But the Wikipedia, like a vast unfolding sunlit tree, rewards even one humble wik.

Information is encoded energy. These knowledge harvesting systems are like miniature windmills that capture the tiny breezes generated when one person walks past another. By analogy, consider that the energy that drives nearly all the life on earth is harvested one photon at a time by molecules of chlorophyll, each one quietly jostled by a visiting sunbeam. In this sense, we are living in the age of organic knowledge.

So get in there and do your wikworth.

4 thoughts on “The age of organic knowledge”

  1. A very colorful description of what is going on in the world of social publishing. I will be sure to pass this post along to my inlaws who work for a school system that has banned the use of wikipedia.

  2. I’ve been thinking about opening up my blog to allow anyone to publish to it.
    Think of the chaos! I’m kind of going for the room full of chimps on typewriters thing…who knows? HAMLET!

Comments are closed.