Editing Wikipedia: a postmodern phenomenon?

Simon Collister picks up on some news which has been doing the rounds: James Bridle has published, in proper book dead-tree form, all the edits made to the ‘Iraq War’ Wikipedia page, over a five-year period. This is as part of a project on history and historiography on the Internet.

There are no fewer than 12 volumes – almost 7,000 pages detailing around 12,000 changes in all.

Collister concludes:

Call it what you will, the sooner we – and particularly those in positions of authority, influence and power – can recognise and accept that the representation and manifestation of knowledge and power is a dynamic, fluid, process that yields meaning and suggests outcomes that change over time, the sooner contemporary society will benefit.

In this sense, it’s possible to see Wikipedia as a postmodern phenomenon – all knowledge as an in-flux mass of information, constantly being buffeted by the influences of people and groups, all attempting to ensure their version of the ‘truth’ is the recorded one. It’s a process constantly taking place in the public domain on a whole host of topics. Publishing the edits of the Iraq War Wikipedia page is the physical manifestation of this process, allowing us to see the changes made. This opens up questions of what can constitute factual information, how to verify competing claims and the role of the Internet in facilitating this.

Of course if society does accept the fluid nature of knowledge, perhaps the wisdom of the crowd (or more accurately, a tech-savvy, wired, probably overwhelmingly Western crowd) who edit a Wikipedia page is the only truth we’ll be able to refer to. Obviously, this is taking the original point to an ultimate, extreme conclusion – I agree that a greater understanding of the process of knowledge-gathering would be no bad thing, and neither is the limited democratisation of that process. But some authority remains a must.

Unsurprisingly, that Wikipedia page is still being edited.

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