In a world where a global social network and database of knowledge can be unlocked with the key of an internet connection, being arrogant and self-serving is a hindrance to our societal potential. Thinking yourself to be more important than any other part of a global entity is naive. We are a collage of individuals, and our societal fellowship is what is important, not our individual contributions.
A prominent example of a societal collage is the Wikipedia. Thousands of anonymous, selfless authors contribute to produce millions of brilliant articles in the most comprehensive and progressive fountain of knowledge known to man. In fact, the content of any standard college course is, with no doubt, present on the Wikipedia. There is no wonder why so many students plagiarize and paraphrase from it, for it is the most complete and accessible knowledge base society has ever known, and it is constantly growing.
None of the authors ask for any recompense, or any acknowledgement whatsoever. The resignation to something bigger than them is satisfaction enough. Not a single advertisement exists on the site (although there is the occasional fundraiser), because money is not the goal –they are after something far more powerful. The idea is that our cooperative effort produces results more spectacular than any individual effort. Our hunger for a complete understanding of the world only leads us to the conclusion that we are a part of it, a piece of the metaphorical puzzle, a paragraph among pages, a fragment of a collage.
The wikipedia is just one project underway by the Wikimedia Foundation*. Other equally astounding projects currently underway are: a dictionary*, a quote database*, a free textbook database*, a free online library*, a world news source*, a free learning community*, a species directory*, a freely usable media database*, a free knowledge base*, and a worldwide travel guide*. All the software running these sites is also free and open-source*.
Unfortunately, the main reason wikipedia is not supported in academic institutions is because it can be edited by anyone and is therefore inaccurate or unreliable. However, this is part of the beauty of wikipedia and its sister projects. Anyone can edit the wikipedia, leading some to believe the site is plagued with false information and vandalism. However, such instances are remedied with surprising urgency*. Nearly all wikipedia articles also contain rigorous citations, aiding in the site’s credibility. False information in the academic world is as transparent as ever – scientific journals are peer reviewed ad nauseum and frauds are unearthed with incredible haste, the wikipedia is no exception.
Our ideas and our knowledge are the accumulation of the realities of every member of humanity, past and present. Each of our ancestors with their own perception ready to twist the world into their own truth, free to draw any and all conclusions as they see fit, and pass them down to further generations. This is the evolution of knowledge. This is progress, and the wikipedia, along with others, are helping to pave the way.