From time to time, it seems as if we live in a society of only two generations — those who came before and those who came after the Internet. And I’m not just talking about the times you have to show your mom how to use her Facebook account. The technology gap manifests itself in the different ways the different generations approach situations.
I purchased an Anthology of Classical Myth from Labyrinth in the beginning of the semester. My professor made special note to show us the glossary, telling us that if we ever wanted to remind ourselves of mythological characters or a certain polis of Greece, it would be a handy resource. But if I forgot, say, who Epimetheus was or where on the map Mycenae would be, my first instinct would be to Google it (and the first page I open would most likely be Wikipedia.)
These are undeniable sources of information in our lives; Wikipedia and Google are recognized as proper nouns in Microsoft Word. Information is most accessible to our generation via the Internet. What is perhaps most interesting is that we often find the answers to our daily Internet queries from people just like ourselves. That is to say, rather than searching through databases or accredited websites, we often trade rigorousness for immediacy of information and trust the contributions of our fellow Internet users.
It is this implicit trust that has made Wikipedia, according to The New York Times, the largest and most utilized reference source on the Internet. By accessing information on the Internet in this manner, we agree to be a part of this user-based contribution community. We tacitly agree to exchange reliable information with others, and with this understanding we assume that other users have made the same unspoken agreement.
But we tend to take information from the Internet without ever contributing to it ourselves. We become passive users rather than active members of the information networks of the Internet, stripping ourselves of any accountability as to the reliability of the very information we access. How many contributions do we make for every hundred, or even thousand, web pages that we visit?
Project Gutenberg, Wikipedia, OpenLibrary, Knol, among various other information websites are founded upon user contribution. And while they are calling for your monetary contribution, I am asking for your intellectual contribution. It is our responsibility, as members of the academic community, to contribute to the free databases of information available to us in order to sustain them. It is our responsibility to add to articles, help put public domain literature online and answer posted questions.
Digitizing information allows literature, words, ideas, concepts, to be, without charge, available to each and every single one of us. It gives us accessibility to and mobility of information that no other comparable source could provide, and it provides us with, if only symbolically, some economic freedom from having to purchase ideas and knowledge. As Wikipedia programmer Brandon Harris said, “…we’re working to make people free. When we have access to free knowledge, we are better people. We understand the world is bigger than us, and we become infected with tolerance and understanding.”
And by accumulating the information ourselves, we rely just a bit less on commercial resources for information. We allow free databases to retain their independence. On the surface, perhaps this does not seem all too important. But think about it. Nobody is selling you the information for a profit. No company is bombarding the edges of your web browsers with ads. This is a source of information that simply exists by itself because other people want you to see it and read it and know about it. It is a not only free but extensive exchange of knowledge.
Greater user contribution can hopefully make information more transparent. The Internet is malleable, instantaneously able to change as the world around us does. The more we interact with the information on the Internet, the more we change it and contribute to it and check it for accountability, the more robust and accurate it will inevitably become. Even Jimmy Wales could not escape his own controversy being posted on his Wikipedia page.
We now need to contribute toward making the free databases of information of the Internet into very comprehensive and robust sources because they are daily, inextricable parts of our web browsing. We are part of the Internet community. And as members of that community, we must sustain it and care for its welfare. We must contribute what we know in order to continue building these collections of free information which we use so often.
Kinnari Shah is a sophomore from Washington, N.J. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.