Lanier's Criticism of Wikipedea

06 Mar 2016

Jaron Lanier is a man I admire quite a bit. Besides his gnarly dreads, his collection of exotic music instruments, he is also an incredible social commentator. Wikipedia describes him as ‘an American computer philosophy writer, computer scientist, visual artist, and composer of classical music.’ I find his musings and criticisms of social structure in the digital age to be, if not an action for change, then provactive thought experiments that encourages the reader to dream up a world wired differently.

One of his more interesting arguments is his criticism towards of, well, Wikipedia. This seems ridiculous, how can anyone be against free communal knowledge? Lanier argues that the content that you consume on Wikipedia is created by a ‘partially interested’ third party that relays information to from the original source. When consuming information straight from the source, whether it is a person or an event, you also absorb the nuances of language, personality, and the ecosystem. So when you are reading that article about XYZ you’re only receiving a part of the message.

What Lanier suggests is there is are strong limitations to the concepts we absorb through Wikipedia. Can all of human experience be cataloged as essays written by a third party in a seemingly neutral tone? He thinks not. To be clear, Wikipedia is a wonderful resource to be used and valued. In the same breath, we should be cognizant of the inherit limitations that our tools possess. This is even more so with something like Wikipedia, which we use as a means to understand our place in the world.

Published on 06 Mar 2016