Tuesday, May 1, 2007

In defense of print encyclopedias...

Thanks to boingBoing..
If I may play the devils advocate, in this age of free online information, I believe it is a good exercise to try and think of ways to market the bound editions of a reputable encyclopedia. I have a few points, some more serious than others, but valid none the less. Feel free to chime in with any others you can think of

1.) Wikipedia is far more elitist than a print edition encyclopedia. No everyone in the world has access to electricity , much less a computer or internet connection. We like to think the internet is ubiquitous, however the number of internet users for Jan '07 totaled only 747 million worldwide (Comscore '07) or around 11% of the world's population. This leaves a whopping 89%, the overwhelming majority of which are impoverished , "unwired" and unable to access the "totality of human knowledge" available online. For these poor, the bound print editions of the encyclopedias are absolutely necessary for furthering knowledge and bettering their situations. The cost of encyclopedias is dropping rapidly, plus the market is already flooded with print editions they are easily accessible in used book and thrift stores as well as through old fashioned yard sales.

This leads into my next point of...
2.) Ownership of knowledge. What happens if the power goes out? You can't read wikipedia by candlelight. What if an earthquake destroys Wikipedia's servers? Print editions not only are more rugged, but also can be utilized more independently. What you are paying for with a print encyclopedia is dependable knowledge that is personally available to you independent of facilitating entities. In short, ownership of the knowledge. Just think about it. Once you buy the print encyclopedia, barring physical destruction of the object itself, there is no person or entity that comes between you and the knowledge contained within the volumes.
Now think about Wikipedia. First once must purchase a computer from a vendor who must sell you the correct software and hardware for access to the internet. Next one must have a physical connection to the internet. Mostly this is done via a cable of some sort. Next one must have access to electricity to run the computer. One must also have a bank account that allows one to purchase internet service from a provider. The provider must have the correct software and hardware to allow your computer to access remote servers on a network. Finally, Wikipedia must have all of these things plus some more to be able to deliver content to you at your desk. Miss any one of these steps (say the above mentioned power outage that prevents you from accessing your computer) and the online repository of knowledge becomes about as useful as tits on a boar hog.

3.) The encyclopedia guarantees named, qualified sources for the information contained within. Say what you want about experts, scholars, and peer-reviewed literature, but the fact is that these people have a much deeper understanding of their subject areas than any of us. That is what you are paying for when you buy a set of encyclopedias - qualified, reliable, and scholarly sources.
Wikipedia can only make a broad assertion that it is edited by "tens of thousands of regular editors - everyone from expert scholars to casual readers." (Wikipedia, 07) There is no guarantee that article about "The Standard model of Particle Physics" was edited last by a noteworthy scholar in the area, or by Steve, the guy who sold you your coffee this morning.

4.) The heavy volumes of the set encourage young and old alike to tone their bodies as well as their minds. A computer only encourages lethargy which has been cited as a causal factor in obesity.

5.) When was the last time you could use a computer to sit on in order to boost children up to see over the table.

6.) Print Encyclopedias accommodate users with ES (Electrosensativity). The World Health Organization recognizes ES as real condition where exposure to electrical fields can have a wide range of adverse effects for certain people. The symptoms can run the gamut from skin rashes, fatigue, and headaches, to dizziness, memory loss, and respiratory illness. Sweden is the only country to recognize the effects of ES - 230,000 people are registered as suffering from it (or 2.5% of the population).
The biggest offender of triggering ES symptoms is by far computers and computer monitors. One can avoid the sufferings of this sometimes disabling disease by purchasing a print version of an encyclopedia. (Electrosensativity.org, 07)

7.) The dangers of centralized knowledge. The widely printed and distributed sets of encyclopedias are knowledge sources in and of themselves. Relying on knowledge that is stored in far away places shifts the power structures that accompany that knowledge and make it far more valuable. As people increasingly rely on these systems, they become dependent upon them for guidance and inquiry. Sure they say that it can be edited by anyone, but who knows what is really going on? It is much easier to control information when it is located in a centralized source than when it is distributed amongst the masses in a semi-random fashion. The profit model behind print encyclopedias ensure that market forces even out the information and keep the company in check. Wikipedia has no real profit motive. When there is no profit motive, there must be some alternative agenda driving this knowledge, and in that vacuum lies the roots of fascism.

8.) The long publishing times and extensive peer reviewing prevents premature social commentary and knee-jerk reactions from entering into the academic sphere. By its nature, academia is a slow and thoughtful process that seeks to establish enduring truth. Put another way, wikipedia simply responds to too much by becoming an information repository for EVERY idea and point of view...like an annoying friend who changes viewpoints on a whim but never stops for a moment to think anything over. Many things need time to be fleshed out and booted around the academic sphere before a stable state emerges. Wikipedia leaves no time for this academic mediation instead acting like an impulsive two year old at a toy store fighting for his mother's attention.
VA tech brings up this point. In the week following (and even up until now) the page on the massacre has been changed, edited, and reworked almost to the point that anything put up there is by default unreliable as it is based on partial evidence. The function of a legitimate scholarly encyclopedia is to be an authority on subjects, not to be an ad-hoc news/tabloid agency. We have Matt Drudge and Fark for that.

Electrosensativity.org http://www.electrosensitivity.org/ accessed 4/24/07

Comscore press release "Worldwide Internet Audience has Grown 10 Percent in Last Year, According to comScore Networks" http://www.comscore.com/press/release.asp?press=1242 accessed 4/24/07

Wikipedia "About" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:About#Who_writes_Wikipedia.3F accessed 4/24/07

check out the original blog post at the Man from Porlock blog

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