Nunberg on Wikipedia

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

John Timmons sent me this podcast of Geoff Nunberg commenting on Wikipedia. It’s cogent. The one observation I find most cogent is when Nunberg talks about the evasive nature of encyclopedic knowledge and the difficulties of its synthesis. We know a lot about the Romans. But we also don’t know a lot about what we know about the Romans.

Nunberg notes the “wisdom of the crowd” relation to the methodological intent of the online service and claims that one of its limitations is that its form cannot produce a “consistent viewpoint” on a subject. This, I think is all okay, but there’s another, finer point to make about Wikipedia. In my view, above all else, Wikipedia is about “obligatory participation,” not knowledge at all. There is an expectation to each entry–such as a gap on the subject of asteismus, a rhetorical figure used a lot on sitcoms such as Frasier and in Shakespeare: people who can and should contribute are obligated to do so. Nunberg could write this entry on asteismus, thus producing a new version of Wikipedia.


One response to “Nunberg on Wikipedia”

  1. gibb says:

    Then there is Borges’ The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia (New York, 1917) which in the narrator’s copy does not contain the entry on Uqbar, while his friend’s copy does. A difference of 921 pages versus 917. Does Uqbar exist or not then, in one form or another, depending upon what is seen?