I found that Orlowski’s long, incoherent anti-Wikipedia screed in the Guardian sent my thinking in some unexpected directions. Really, it’s too much to expect rational discourse from a man whose first piece on the subject (that I saw) rejoiced in the URL “khmer_rouge_in_daipers” (sic). Anyhow, he assembles put-downs from the usual anti-Wikipedia suspects; there’s really not much new. I will credit him for one observation that has recently become apparent to me: the wearing thing about being a tender of the Wikipedia flame isn’t the malicious political or racist crazies, it’s the constant background noise of dumb low-level minor juvenile vandalism. After the same-old same-old bashfest is done, the article dips into sophmore philosophy, arguing that the Net’s endless flow of atomized information somehow prevents us from interpreting or acquiring wisdom. And, by the way, the kids these days are no good, what with relying on Google instead of Real Books. Anyhow, in among all this tilting at windmills there is a (fairly well concealed) thing to think about, and it has to do with length. It doesn’t bother me that much of the prose I read these days has an age measured in hours, or is evanescent electronic text, or is produced by principals rather than intermediaries. But here’s what I’m coming to think: in text, short form tends to drive out long form. Our novelty-seeking chimpanzee minds would rather chew through a bunch of tasty little morsels than a full balanced meal. For example, when I was just about to turn in last night, I glanced at the New Yorker magazine at the end of the sofa, got started reading George Packer’s excellent The Lesson of Tal Afar, and didn’t get to bed till way past 1AM. And I learned some things about the state of play in Iraq that no succession of blog posts is gonna teach me, because the material really needs a dozen or so pages of beautifully-typeset densely-argued discourse. I’m not going to try to summarize Packer’s piece; but if you want to have a really educated opinion about the way things are heading over there, you’ll read it. As for me, I’m making a conscious effort to do more of my reading in big chunks. But I’m not giving up on blogs or the Wikipedia, and I remain contemptuous of Orlowski’s posse’s ineffectual flailing at anything with that dangerous smell of the New and Interesting.

author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
picture of the day
April 13, 2006
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