I discovered Wikipedia somewhere in january or february 2002, but stayed anonymous for quite a while...
When I finally created a user page, here is what I wrote on it :
A diamond partially out of its gangue
- When I discovered Wikipedia a few months ago, I felt I was brought back in the past, when Internet was still very much in the hands of whoever had the chance to be connected. How exhilarating it was ! These past years, I felt the net had somehow lost some of its shine, too many professional and commercial sites, too much advertising, too many people wandering on forums, talking about what professionals made them talk, too many copyrights...loss of freshness, loss of spontaneity, relative passivity, endless wandering in search of kindred souls.'
- And I ended here :-) Found a diamond partially out of its gangue, slowly but surely being cut by hundred of artists. Earth hosts many jewels!
Perhaps I could explain better what delighted me...
Neutrality as the core goal
It was not the word free, nor the word open. I guess I only paid attention to those words many months, if not a year later.
When I looked at the goal of wikipedia, I saw first "building a neutral resource". Today, but today only, I also see the second part "make this resource available to the highest number of people on Earth". An encyclopedia free of charge, a content under free licence, a multilingual resource; all those are notions which came much later, these are only means to achieve large distribution.
But three years ago, I only saw the true challenge:collectively building a neutral resource of information. I very quickly realised the viral nature of the content we were gathering and organising, and saw the project was one of those which would really make a difference.
Information is everywhere. For most of us, the issue is not having access to information, but rather having access to the entirety of information on a given topic. And being certain we have it all. Most resources are however displaying only one or a limited number of view points on a topic. Those resources try to tell us what to think, try to tell us what is wrong and what is good. What we should buy. What we should love. What we should complain about...
On the contrary, Wikipedia does not try to twist the reality, it just report facts and opinions, and let readers make up their own minds. What I truely loved in Wikipedia is that it changes our relationship to the world around us, it allows us to make informed decisions about our future.
Wikipedia, a patch against loneliness, boredom and helplessness
When I first met Wikipedia, this is what I saw. At that time, I was living in a small appartment, with my husband and my two kids. I was working all day long, coming back home to fix dinner, cuddle the kids, start a washing-machine, go to bed to read sci-fi books which would make me dream of another world. And then sleep and wake up again for a similar day.
I will borrow some of the words below from a friend, because I thought them so right. I felt lonely, bored and helpless.
- As a working mother of two, I saw people all the time, yet was lonely, as I could not share important things with those I met.
- I was very busy, but bored, because I felt stuck in my life.
- I had many I could help, yet felt helpless because I could not see how it would make a difference.
Loneliness is not "being alone". It comes more from others not listening to us, perhaps because we speak slowly, because we are too timid to speak up in public, or because we are disabled and fear the other people looking at us, or because we fear interruption, betrayal, abuse. How many wikipedians have a physical disability? How many indicated they suffered from depression or other mental symptoms? How many are hiding their real name? How many have no friends, no lover? How many did not come to a wikimeet in their city because too shy? Think about it... Most of us are concerned. Loneliness comes from uncaring others.
Boredom is not "nothing to do" - there is always much "to do". We can get a job, we can make babies, we can read a book or watch TV or go gardening. But there is so much more we would like to do... only can not... because we need to finance, be licensed or hire others to get it done. Often, lack of guidance, lack of credentials, lack of qualifications... or just our boss not being willing to give us more responsability, to give us a chance, keeps us out of many decisions or tasks. How many wikipedians do not have the life, the wife, the children, the job... they would like to have? How many feel they just can't do something in real life due to lack of credentials? How many asked for a business card, an official position? Think about it. Most of us are concerned. Boredom comes from lack of opportunity and trust.
Helplessness is not always "no one to help", but is often a lack of opportunity to help. We "help less" because we are asked to help less; We feel "worth less" because our time and attention is treated as worthless. How many of us are involved in organisations? How many help other people children to do their schoolwork? How many help fighting racism? How many even went on strike in the past year? How many wrote to their deputy? How many signed a petition to ask for free images to be released? Think about it. Most of us are concerned. Helplessness is feeling that nothing we could do could make a difference.
We can always pretend Wikipedia is not a social club, but the fact is, this is place where we interact with others more than we sometimes do in real life. This is a place where we learn to realise other people are different and where we learn to cope with this fact. This is a place where we learn to cooperate, to create rules with others, to dare oppose other rules, to share ownership of an article, do develop empathy for others. A place where we have the chance to meet people living on the other side of the Earth, where we can appear in the newspapers, or get invited to the Bundestag, where we can contact a deputy while feeling entitled to. And this is the place where we basically always find something to do that pleases us.
To make us feel we are alive :-)