Sunday, April 22, 2007

NPOV opportunities

I'm sure I'm not the only one who views Wikipedia as would a stoner who sees beauty in things that are not so apparently thought-provoking to industrious sober people.

To these sober folks, Wikipedia is like a productive zone of collective beeworkers producing an impressive array of enyclopedia entries. In this functionalist or machinic sense, Wikipedia can be an amazing phenomenon in its own right, just not to me. It is not the statistic showing how Wikipedia far outpaces Encyclopedia Brittanica in quantity of articles that reveals to me its greatest beauty. Nor is it Wikipedia's formidable reputation as a source for accuracy.

There is a higher purpose still that seems to still be eluding those who would rather quibble over the current status of a particular Wikipedia entry.

puff puff

"Dude, the planet is calling its children together so they may heal. "

puff puff

And since this exercise tends to look rather like an acrimonious exchange between trenchant ideologues, the community of sober discussants don't see the hidden beauty of what is called a "Neutral Point of View" (or NPOV) conflict.

But maybe they would see what I'm seeing were they to call it an NPOV opportunity.

We have been living in a dialogue-deficit economy. Just go to the library stacks and peruse through the Middle East Politics section. Witness the artefacts of years of academics talking at each other-- or at the very most, profiting off the others' utterances as an excuse to produce a new book. Collectively, academia has failed to do what one encyclopedia entry on Wikipedia has done: compel a large-scale human lock-in. One that won't be broken until every possible subjectivity has been worked through, transcended into a higher realm of dialogically-informed knowledge.

Joseph Reagle, in his PhD dissertation proposal has identified this as the "transsubjective" goal of knowledge. Something I might venture to say, which is attainable only for the most politically benign of knowledges. It is sad to say that in the current state of our planet we can't even reach a healthy transsubjective portrait of what happened during the Holocaust. Just imagine, then, how difficult it would be to get a globally-coherent picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is in the context of this difficulty that I think people should be taking the longer view, by appreciating Wikipedia processes rather than Wikipedia products. Cormac Lawler's M.A. thesis takes this moment very seriously and I look forward to working with him and others one day towards optimizing the learning experience that is a very necessary consequence of knowledge production.


David Gerard said...

Yes. I have long maintained that Neutral Point Of View is by far the most radical innovation Wikipedia brings to the world. Much more radical than just having anyone write the site.

Aun said...

Interesting blog Said. Pardon me, but have the harbingers of the epistemological revolution questioned whether the disintegration of traditional epistemic authority is in fact a good thing, or is this taken for granted?

Wikipedia has not muffled the Perennialists' protestations just yet!

Said Kassem Hamideh said...

Thanks for the "Perennialist" reference, Aun. You have just gifted me with a new trope for my thesis.