Wikipedia on Linux

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that has articles on over 1,000,000 topics which are collectively written by about 70,000 people. As such, there is controversy over whether or not it should be used as a scholarly source. I argue that Wikipedia is not a good direct source of reliable information, but it is a good source of other sources.

In order to understand why Wikipedia is not a good direct source, one must examine its functionality in depth. In order to accomplish this, we will use the article about Linux, an open source operating system as an example. See the caption on the image below for an understanding of how Wikipedia articles are written.

Linux   Wikipedia  the free encyclopedia

The Linux Wikipedia article. Circled on left: links to the article and discussions about the article. Circled on right: links to read, edit or view the edit history of the article.

Wikipedia article traffic statistics

The Linux article is heavily trafficked, with over 150,000 views in the last 30 days (underlined), and upwards of 6,000 views each day.

The Linux article has a lot of information in it, and it’s viewed by lots of people. So how do we all know that this information is factual and correct? The simple answer is that unless we explore the citations directly or already know the facts, we don’t. As quoted by Jenkins,

“Wikipedia’s radical openness means that any given article may be, at any given moment, in a bad state: for example, it could be in the middle of a large edit or it could have been recently vandalized. While blatant vandalism is usually easily spotted and rapidly corrected, Wikipedia is certainly more subject to subtle vandalism than a typical reference work” (Jenkins).

This quotation comes from “Wikipedians” (Jenkins) themselves. They acknowledge that Wikipedia is very much a work in progress, and that its information may not be reliable. To further exemplify this, one can just take a look at any article’s revision history.

Linux  Revision history   Wikipedia  the free encyclopedia

The Linux article has been edited three times already today!

We have no idea if these edits are reliable or “verifiable” (Jenkins), or if they’re false information or vandalism. Certainly it is possible for anyone to double-check them and hopefully ensure their reliability, but we have no guarantee as readers that this has happened. Furthermore, as Jenkins points out, we haven’t even decided what counts as reliable: “If one reads the history pages of most Wikipedia entries, one can see vigorous debates about what counts as reliable evidence” (Jenkins). Regardless, the average reader doesn’t bother to find out if the information is considered reliable, which can be very dangerous, potentially resulting in further dissemination of false information. Jenkins quotes a former encyclopedia editor as saying,

“To the ordinary user, the turmoil and uncertainty that may lurk beneath the surface of a Wikipedia article are invisible. He or she arrives at a Wikipedia article via Google, perhaps, and sees that it is part of what claims to be an “encyclopedia”. This is a word that carries a powerful connotation of reliability. The typical user doesn’t know how conventional encyclopedias achieve reliability, only that they do” (Jenkins).

The conclusion here is that without knowledge of where the information came from, Wikipedia is not reliable. For this reason, referencing Wikipedia is risky, and should be done with great skepticism and care. So instead, why not use the sources cited on Wikipedia directly? It is likely that they are considered scholarly sources, and can be referenced with less, but still some skepticism.


Sources:

Jenkins, Henry. “What Wikipedia Can Teach Us About The New Media Literacies (Parts One and Two).” Confessions of an Aca-Fan. WordPress. 26-27 June 2007. Web. 8 March 2015.

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Arrested Communication

One TV show that is often “giffed” is Arrested Development, and for good reason. The characters in the show are relatable, and have flaws that many might find in themselves. As such, it is easy to find a GIF (graphics interchange format) from this show that relates to one’s life. Often, the exact situations represented in the show are not relatable, since they’re so ridiculous, however the feelings expressed by the characters throughout translate to many different scenarios. This is a perfect example of the phenomenon of GIFs being used as a form of digital social cue. Something in popular culture that is relatable to one person is often relatable to many people, so we immortalize and share these moments as GIFs. As a basic example, what person has never thought this before?

Exactly, no one. The phrase “I’ve made a huge mistake” was not only used repeatedly in the show, but also referenced ad infinitum afterwards. It has been used in every regrettable situation imaginable. However, this is an easy example, where the context must be quite specific. Some GIFs are not so easy to interpret. In many cases, a GIFs meaning depends greatly on the context, and must be interpreted based on said context. Take the following as an example:

It could mean anything, to anyone, in any situation! In the actual show, this GIF is from a scene where the character Buster finally stands up for himself. His father has been trying to push him out of his mother’s house, and Buster decides that his father will be the one to go instead of him. In real life, however, this GIF could be a (bad) comeback in an online flame war, a way of trying to get a friend to do something instead of you, etc. A GIF like this can be used as an attempt to increase media richness (Baym) by communicating with more than just text. However, it is a bad example of a GIF that requires social presence (Baym), because one needs no familiarity with the source of the GIF to properly interpret it. To exemplify this, I’ve decided to create a GIF that requires a great deal of social presence (Baym), as it makes no sense out of the context of the show:

2015-02-08 19_36_56

Here, the character Michael is learning that he just burned down a banana stand with $250,000 lining its walls. His dad George (in the orange jumpsuit) is furious!


Sources

Baym, Nancy K. “Communication in Digital Spaces.” Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010. PDF.

http://its-arrested-development.tumblr.com/ (all gifs found here)

A Robot That Can Make More of Itself: The MakerBot

Makerbot Ad

One of the most significant recent developments in computing technology is the availability of devices that can turn a model that’s been created on a computer or scanned into a real 3D object. The advent of consumer 3D printing is something that really exemplifies John Onians’s “Four Stages of Amazement” (Gunning). First and foremost, 3D printing definitely provides a striking visual experience. Personally, I was blown away when I first saw a 3D printed object. I couldn’t believe that what I was seeing was fabricated by a desktop-sized device. I admit, however, that I did not experience physical paralysis (stage two of four). Next, I wanted to learn more (stage three of four). I wanted to understand how it was done, how I could do it, and I wanted to watch it happen. Seeing something that has been 3D printed is one thing, but seeing the process is another thing altogether. Finally, I was able to print my own 3D object (stage four of four), and in the process, I discovered how it all worked.

This is not a technology that has yet been assimilated so ubiquitously into peoples’ lives that the process of “defamiliarization” (Gunning) is relevant. It is in fact still in the “uncanny” (Gunning) stage, such that most people are still immensely impressed with a 3D printed object. Just yesterday I showed some people a 3D printed model of my head, and they were as impressed as I was when I first saw something produced by a 3D printer! So, we are in an important part of this technology’s life cycle. We are in the stage just after availability, but still before being commonplace.

In my research I found that the reactions to the emergence of consumer 3D printing were quite varied. Some articles hype it up as much as they can, while others take on more reasonable viewpoints. It’s clear that many people have high expectations for this technology. One excited magazine writer writes, “It could be a revolutionary age. MakerBot is one of a range of desktop manufacturing plants being developed by researchers and hobbyists around the world. Their goal is to create a machine that is able to fix itself and, ultimately, to replicate” (Simonite). Another somewhat more realistic writer quotes a printer expert as saying, “Right now, I don’t see the ‘ah-ha’ application that’s going to drive lots of adoption, but kind of a ‘gee…that’s interesting/cool/neat’ response from the market right now” (Daw).

We will have to wait and see what becomes of this up and coming technology. I believe that ultimately it will become as commonplace as regular printers are now.

Sources:

Gunning, Tom. Re-Knewing Old Technologies: Astonishment, Second Nature, and the Uncanny in Technology from the Previous Turn-of- the-Century. PDF.

Daw, David. “The 3D Printer Revolution Countdown: Print Your Own PC Coming Shortly.” PCWorld. IDG Consumer & SMB, 5 Dec. 2010. Web. 01 Feb. 2015.

Simonite, Tom. “Rise of the Replicators.” NewScientist – Tech. Reed Business Information Ltd., 2 June 2010. Web. 01 Feb. 2015.

Kalish, Jon. “A Mini-robot Business Grows in Brooklyn.” Crain’s New York Business. Crain Communications Inc., 14 Aug. 2009. Web. 1 Feb. 2015.