A blog about Cyberculture and ICTs.

We don’t need to whisper

Posted by candacewhitehead on May 5, 2008

Over dinner last night, some friends and I were discussing the merit of the Internet in helping us with our studies.


After hitting on the fact that at some point, all of us had used “Ctrl F” in order to find a relevant passage in a 300 page online journal, we began debating the pros and cons of the existence of the Internet in assisting with students’ studies – university students, in particular. And with this – the fact that for a large number of people coming into university, Wikipedia is the be all and end all for referencing


I found an interesting article – “University professor says Wikipedia fosters a climate of blind trust” in my research for today’s post.  This Professor Lichtenstein picked up what we were discussing over dinner – that people blindly trust the information placed on Wikipedia. Crazy, I tell you.


What terrifies me about Wikipedia is the way in which it invites you – the ordinary user – to input its information. Now, according to Niko Pfund, an Oxford University Press Publisher, the Oxford English Dictionary also had its roots in a wiki model – obviously in the days of the OED, they weren’t web pages, but you get the drift. According to Pfund:

Oxford English Dictionary, arguably the greatest reference work in the English language (and certainly the greatest reference work about the English language) found its origins in a wiki model, whereby scholars put out the word to English speakers far and wide that they would welcome hard evidence of the earliest appearances of English words.


Which is fine, really. But in my opinion, language is fluid and changeable, and open to interpretation. But facts are, well, solid. Unchangeable (for the most part).


Doing research for an article I was editing a few weeks ago, I decided to check on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s birthdate. Just to be sure. And lo and behold – the date this writer had put in was pulled off Wikipedia – and was out by a year.


And because of the number of times Wikipedia is accessed a day (in 2002 Wikipedia was receiving up to 12 000 hits an hour) once this information is put up, it’s most likely going to be picked up by hundreds of people in the first hour.


I can see the beauty of Wikipedia as a starting point – follow the links to the websites cited and all of that – but isn’t this laziness? Logging on to one website and having the rest of your essay references placed neatly into your lap? I suppose this is the one of the reasons that some departments at Rhodes insist on a number of printed (those things that we call “books”) references in your list of works cited.


I believe that web searches have their merits, of course. I can’t deny that the Internet provides us with a wealth of information that we would not otherwise have access too. But I’m a traditionalist. I struggle to trust information placed on the web, unless it’s strongly affiliated to a decent institution, or in the form of a web book.


Gone are the days that people spend hours pouring over books in the library, risking paper cuts and dust allergies, and the wrath of the librarian hidden behind the Dickens shelf. Instead, people Google the relevant keywords of their essay topic and take the first five or so sites list.


The first of those being Wikipedia. 


4 Responses to “We don’t need to whisper”

  1. tracey said

    Great post! and definitely relevant to all university students. You should watch the documentary entitled ‘The World According to Google’ as it discusses some of the same issues which can all relate to Google.

  2. kelescheppers said

    The more I study new media, the more I see how relevant your post is. I’m a book-lover, but lately I simply haven’t had the time to run up to the library to take out or return books. So now I have R3 in unpaid fines and bills… I had the books for a month and still haven’t read them.

    On the other hand though, to access these online journals you have to have the hardware. That’s where books have computers beat, there’s nothing like cuddling up with a great Toni Morrison novel on a cold winter’s night. You can’t do that sort of thing with a laptop.

  3. Ines Schumacher said

    My boyfriend was a tutor last year for English 1. The amount of times he saw the ONLY reference beng Wikipedia was astounding! Over 60% of students only looked at Wikipedia for their information.

    One even had the courage to put Wikipedia AND SparkNotes down. Idiot. 🙂

  4. candacewhitehead said

    SparkNotes were the other ones that I looked at – and because there are a lot of summaries of novels, the English kids LOVE them. “Bleak House”, for example, which is a weighty piece of Dickens, gets summarised from around 1600 pages to a grand total of 30-something. Lazy lazy lazy.

    In my first year, I was terrified by my English tutor who leaned over her desk and (with her crazy hair) telling us she would FAIL us, IMMEDIATELY if we used Wikipedia as our only reference.

    I’ve never even looked at Wikipedia for essay purposes since! 🙂

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