For several years, I made a very small yearly donation ($10-$15) to Wikipedia when I would come across their oddly ugly banner ads. I use Wikipedia daily, often multiple times a day, not just because of the convenience, nor because of the way Wikipedia has muscled its way to the top of Google’s search rankings, but because I honestly believe in Wikipedia’s mission. The idea of creating a free and open repository of human knowledge, with versions in many languages (potentially all human languages), strikes some deep chord in my psyche. I suppose, now that I am daring myself to put it into words, that I am fascinated by Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of The Omega Point: that goal of universal love and community toward which humanity is striving–and which I believe it is our destiny to find. Wikipedia seems to me a step on that dim path.
One might ask, if Wikipedia is a sign of the coming Omega Point, why I would only give $10. That’s an excellent question, and I don’t come out looking very good in any of the answers I could come up with. And anyway, I haven’t given any money at all since reading David Auerbach’s piece in Slate on the misogyny and trollery of many of Wikipedia’s core of editors. As a teacher of research writing, I’m well aware of the uses and misuses of Wikipedia, the many inaccuracies and at times true mendacity, the often flabby writing and foggy explanation. I’ve lately felt ambivalent about this tool that I use so often: is this worldwide experiment in democracy and collaboration so fatally flawed that I should begin looking for a better encyclopedia, something which accomplishes what Wikipedia tried to and failed?
Wikipedia’s glaring flaws notwithstanding, I suppose I still see it as one of the best things in town: non-profit, devoted in principle (and often in practice) to human betterment and the common good. The low participation of women in the project troubles me, but I’m heartened a bit at least to know that the Wikimedia Foundation is actively trying to close that gap (and that the participation of women has increased last year over the year before, even if not by as much as the foundation had hoped). Perhaps it’s time to put aside my gripes and give a little to this project.