Kasutaja:Oop/Small Wikipedias' Burden

Allikas: Vikipeedia

Small Wikipedias' burden[muuda | muuda lähteteksti]

In a certain way, writing Wikipedia is the same everywhere, in every language or culture. You have to stick to the facts, aiming for the most objective way of describing them, including everything relevant and leaving out all the everyday trivia that is not really necessary to understand the context. You have to use critical thinking, trying to be independent of your own preferences and biases. To some effect, that's all there is to it.

Naturally, Wikipedians have their biases, some of which can never be cured. Most of Wikipedians tend to like encyclopedias. There are millions of people in the world that do not share that bias; we represent them rather poorly. I'm also quite sure that an overwhelming majority of Wikipedia coauthors are literate. Again, that's not true for everyone in this world. Yet we have also other, less noticeable but barely less fundamental biases.

All Things Bright and Beautiful[muuda | muuda lähteteksti]

A Wikipedian bringing light of knowledge, an illustration in the article Wikipedia by d'Alembert (1751)

Wikipedia is a continuance not only for the ancient tradition of collections of human knowledge, but particularly the modern encyclopedic tradition that was most famously represented by Denis Diderot's great L'Encyclopédie. We share several beliefs with the philosophers of the Enlightenment. We believe that knowledge is good, and ignorance is not a bliss. It is better to know, even if it is uncomfortable, and you would feel better shutting your eyes to the world around you. Otherwise, we would have the Encyclopedia of All Things Good and Beautiful, that would mention no pain, no dangers, nor disease neither wars, nothing controversial, just the everlasting progress of humanity, with science and religion marching, hand in hand, towards the eternal sunshine of splendid future. Yet we have chosen knowledge and, to some extent, maybe even truth. Amongst a lot of other things, this means we have to acknowledge our social responsibility. After all, that's one of the sources where our aims of objectivity and neutrality come from.

Indeed, in small cultures, languages, and societies, that means a lot more than in the big ones. Of course, in a big culture, your every mistake is daily read by thousands of people in many countries. But there are also many people who notice it and might possibly mend it. In a small culture, your mistakes most likely stay as they are, until they're copied in every book.

And while talking about books, there are much fewer other dependable sources for people in small cultures than in big ones. No Britannica, no Larousse, no Brockhaus. In my first language, Estonian, there are currently three encyclopedias that cover the whole alphabet: one was published before WWII, one during the Soviet times, and one started in USSR in 1980s, then changed its name and was finished in 2000s. It is possible there won't be another finished encyclopedia because it is just too costly to produce for a small market. Try to imagine: what would that mean for local Wikipedians? If you don't get it right, no one else will.

In good themes and in bad, in sickness and in health[muuda | muuda lähteteksti]

Wikipedia tends to take special place on a small regional culture's media landscape. If there are few commercially successful publications, it is hard to find money for investigative journalism. Instead, media tends to focus on quick online news that are flicking by at an unbelievable rate. Such a journalism is cheap to produce, but it is also cheap by its content: it does not create a balanced media field where every bias is levelled by competition. That means if you want to get a good overview of recent (or even not-so-recent) events, you either have to wait until someone publishes a book on that theme (and you better hope it's a good one because small market won't support another in several years) or turn to, well, Wikipedia. The accounts you give on socially and politically important themes in Wikipedia get much more resonance in small cultures. Proportionally, their impact is much bigger in Estonian than in English.

The same is true about every controversial subject. I really doubt there will ever be lasting consensus on the English Wikipedia's talk page on Estonia about whether Estonia was occupied in 1940 or not. Now, try to imagine how the the same events would be described in Estonian and in Russian. There is a faint possibility to reach a consensus about the description of controversial issues but it needs a tremendous lot of diligent work and good will.

Wikipedians carrying their social responsibilities with honor and dignity

For every nation, there are subjects that are controversial and hurtful, not willingly recalled, like childhood memories of being abused – or abusing others. A friend lately told me there are numbers and dates on the building blocks from which his house was built. Those blocks were made during World War II in a local concentration camp. Currently, all numbers are covered by plaster, because his father does not want to see them.

That's understandable. Nobody does. But if we stick with our belief that it is better to know, we should say they're there. We have to write about those parts of history no one is proud of. About ethnic minorities that are not popular. About social problems that are not yet admitted. If the majority in a particular culture states a certain issue is not worthy of an article, that might be the exact reason why it is especially important to have it.

We can work it out[muuda | muuda lähteteksti]

Of course, it is hard to write about the demise of White Russian North-Western Army after WWI, or the expropriation of Baltic German estates on the same years in Estonian Wikipedia. It must be quite difficult to give a balanced account on the Abessinian campaign in Italian, and I can't imagine writing about Armenian genocide in Turkish. But this does not mean it should not be done. Quite on the opposite. We just have to be very careful about it.

That's where it is helpful to stick to our policies that are designed with the consensus of the community in mind. Wikipedia is unique among all big encyclopedias in that its articles do not reflect the viewpoint of a certain expert or two. They are written by a motley crew with a colourful mix of views, luckily joined by the will to reach an understanding – or at least a balanced presentation of all important views on a subject. In some respects, we might say we can never reach objectivity, as only objects are objective; we are a community of subjects, and even if we reach a consensual decision, it will always be subjective. Any time, there may come another subject who disagrees with it. Indeed, if there are enough newcomers, they can raise a discussion and influence community to review the original decision. But the most important thing is the process: the habit to arrange the public meeting of the minds, the belief in possibility of a common ground, and the will to reach it. If we can make an example of that every day, teaching the societies around us, then we will have succeeded.

The same goes for the big Wikipedias, too: every big society consists of smaller ones: people of a city block, pupils of a school class, customers of a coffee shop. Town people, newspaper readers, philatelists. But these goals are much easier to reach in small societies, small cultures, small languages. And if we do not do this, it may very well be that nobody does - noblesse oblige. To paraphrase Kipling, that’s the small Wikipedias' burden.