January 18, 2012

Civilization crumbles during Wikipedia blackout

"Imagine a world without free knowledge" -- if that means a world without Wikipedia, well, it would be like 2003. Even if it meant a world without the web or the internet itself, it would be like 1994.

We haven't gotten any richer, happier, or more productive since either date, so really who cares? You'd lose the minor buzz you feel from visiting your favorite sites, but they're more than replaceable in the real world.

The main reason people freak out so much when pondering the disappearance of the internet is that we live in an age of cocooning, and they're too dismissive or fearful of those real-world substitutes for farting around on the Facebook etc. They really would have nothing to do.

As for Wikipedia, it is incapable of increasing our wisdom, for technological reasons alone (forget who controls and edits it). It belongs with websites that only allow you to tunnel narrowly around an initial search, rather than browse broadly -- Amazon, Netflix, iTunes, Google, eBay, Pandora, and any other site that has so massive a scale of items on offer that you cannot hope to browse through them.

You must instead tell the search bar where you want to go, and trying to click away from that target will still keep you confined to a narrow range around where you started. Similar or related items, customers who like this also like that, also by this artist, and so on.

The best they can do to expose you to things you didn't even know about is to have a "featured item" or "new items". That's like the movie being played at a video rental store -- better than nothing, but not as good as browsing their selection.

A real encyclopedia allows browsing. In fact that's what you end up doing most of the time after the initial stage of "Oh I wonder what it says about this, Oh I wonder what it says about that!" That's true whether it's a general one or a subject-specific one. So browsing is fractal -- an encyclopedia only about animals still allows you to explore parts of the animal world you didn't even know about, and so could not have purposefully searched for.

In high school I had a Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia that I used purposefully as a reference for a little bit, then quickly switched to just flipping through pages at random and following through on the entries that sounded cool. Blind variation and selective retention -- the basic ingredients for evolution by natural selection. And you just can't get that first part with massive-scale sites based on a search bar.

It's not as though a person couldn't tunnel before if they wanted to; all of the specialized knowledge in Wikipedia is out there in books or databases. It's just faster and sometimes cheaper to access through Wikipedia. I use it for the #1 songs on the Billboard charts, to familiarize myself with the zeitgeist over time. But I could find that out some other way, though it might take a couple days instead of minutes, and maybe cost me something, though nothing prohibitive.

So in exchange for a tiny boost in convenience -- remember how well-run and productive society was before the web -- we've sacrificed the ability for our sight to wander into places we didn't even know were there. The search-and-tunnel websites make our view so hyper-specialized that we often cannot see what is right under our nose.

We try to make the best out of the internet, now that it's here, but it would probably have been better if we hadn't adopted it in the first place.

19 comments:

  1. Wikipedia does have a "read a random article" feature, but that's a pretty slow and inefficient way to browse.

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  2. Yet here you are blogging... in the internet.
    And commenting all around.

    All you feel is a little buzz? Its huge heaps of knowledge that you wouldn't have. For better or less people are way more informed that they were in 1994. I have huge problems explaining things to people over 30.

    We are worse off than 1994 because the productive population is decreasing, and there's less young people around. Blaming the internet? How old are you anyway

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  3. I think it is a two-edge sword.

    I agree that, when you search for an entry in a paper enciclopledia, you will see other articles during the process, and probably you will also feel curiosity for some of the articles (this occured to me also, specially when I saw an interesting picture).

    But, for the other side, the hyperlink system of an on-line enciclopledia could be more conducive (specially in a multi-tab browser...) to a "jumping from an entry to another" search, even to isues only largely remoted to the original search.

    An example - you make a search for "Anne Bonney"; from that you go to the article about the movie "Anne of the Indias"; then (via the category), you go to the swashbucker films, then for the "damsel in distress" (a big twist for a search beggining with a woman pirate), then for "Knigh errant", then for "wild man of the wood" and we end reading an article about "almas", a legendary ape-man form Central Asia (an issue very different from the original search).

    About the "We haven't gotten any richer" - this is also because the way GDP is measured; "free" things like wikipedia, blogs, etc. does not count for the GDP (while if the state pays someone $100 to digg an hole ant to other person $100 to cover the hole, the measured GDP increses by $200), then they don't make us richer largely because of the definition of GDP.

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  4. "Yet here you are blogging... in the internet."

    No shit Sherlock. Like I said, we're trying to make the best of this thing.

    "Its huge heaps of knowledge that you wouldn't have."

    In the sense of "factoids," sure, but not in the sense of understanding or wisdom. I've only gained that from browsing the university library stacks, browsing in book stores, etc., diving into what struck me, and synthesizing the pieces that looked like they fit together.

    None of those has ever shown up on internet pages I've come across. I don't just mean they weren't covered in depth, but that they don't show up at all. Just some random examples:

    - The cycles in panics about sex predators in 20th C. America

    - Historical data on the age-sex structure of all countries going back as far as possible

    - Mostly visual books on the architecture of shopping malls during their heyday.

    - Etc.

    The internet has totally failed in its original goal of becoming the "information super-highway." It's mostly a tool for avoiding real social interaction, while thinking you're being social, and for avoiding in-depth and broad-based understanding, while thinking you're becoming better informed.

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  5. "For better or less people are way more informed that they were in 1994. I have huge problems explaining things to people over 30."

    People have easier access to factoids and "news," which they consume like addictive candy and get stuck on a hedonic treadmill. But as they've abandoned libraries and bookstores, they've lost any degree of understanding.

    And Millennials are the most ignorant generation in world history. Talk about problems in explaining things -- they're too glib, arrogant, incurious, and I'm-so-hot to open their mind or be humble before the expanse of things they don't understand.

    I'm 31, part of a betwixt-and-between generation born from 1979 to 1984, after Gen X but before Millennials. Millennials are far and away the most ignorant and incurious. My group is a quantum leap above, but still nothing to brag about. Gen X is somewhat better, especially the earlier they were born (like later '60s).

    Those with the most understanding, interest in understanding, and unspoken humility seem to be the late Baby Boomers, born from about 1957 to 1964. Steve Sailer is an example that readers here all know. Standing next to Millennials, he looks like he's from another planet.

    And they gained all of that from browsing libraries and bookstores, browsing encyclopedias (general or specific), doing their own research projects, and importantly being out and about, exploring large parts of the real world.

    Charles Darwin and Francis Galton left England to explore the tropics, while today's young people would rather fart around on Wikipedia in between 5-hour sessions of level-grinding in Skyrim. Can we be so surprised at the different outcomes?

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  6. People are stupid, so if you give the whole wisdom of the world to them, they'll just get factoids.

    But I learned 4 languages in front of my computer. I could get tons of material which would have been impossible to have 20 years ago. I got to know people who shared my interests and intellectual level, which allowed me to be upwardly mobile and not be tied to family or the shallow jocks at my school.

    So again its sample bias. I guess you live surrounded by dumb semi-nerds and that's driving you crazy. But it isn't fair to compare them to Charles Darwin. The Darwins of today are also travelling the world doing research. And in Victorian England the masses were also drinking beer and gambling to card games while their children died of tuberculosis.

    I have experience too with Millenians and they aren't any dumber than any other generation I've been with. People don't change.

    Fuck, if Steve Sailer were representative of his generation the US would be utopia.

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  7. Wikipedia contains most of the content of an encyclopedia. As mentioned, it has a random page feature. And when I spend a significant amount of time on it, I generally find myself far off from where I started. And I've found tons of new stuff from Pandora, without any "new" or "featured" bit. I might be using it wrong (I've got one station that can veer wildly from one genre to another over time and just thumbs down for stuff I don't like listening to, rather than multiple distinct stations), but it works for me. Before Pandora (and youtube) I would have to repeatedly check kazaa or something to see if they had that artist/song I had read about on allmusic or some other site. Other than that I was stuck with what was on the radio (mostly shit) and at the best buy (likewise). Was it worth it when after years after speculating about it a friend of mine stuck his "And Justice For All" casette tape into a barely audible player? To hell with that, the future is bright.

    Is Sailer at all typical of his cohort? I might as well cite Razib for the greatness of Gen-X or whatever younger generation he is. Millenials aren't old enough to evaluate properly, but I haven't seen any evidence they're relatively ignorant, incurious etc.

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  8. Also, you could evade Wikipedia's block by hitting the "ESC" key.

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  9. I'm 31, part of a betwixt-and-between generation ...

    I remember when you said you're 24 at 2Blowhards. Damn, time flies.

    But you're understating the importance of the internet. The internet is the bypass around media's gatekeepers. Without the Internet's Sailer and others fact-checking and logic-checking, and ultimately making MSM irrelevant, we'd be less free, more demoralized, more alone and without hope.

    Remember the 80s? No internet, just NYT and Newsweek. Feminism was unquestioned, mass immigration was here to stay, African Americans were our moral superiors.

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  10. "I remember when you said you're 24 at 2Blowhards. Damn, time flies. "

    Funny, I've felt like a dirty old man since I was 17.

    "The internet is the bypass around media's gatekeepers. "

    That can be a benefit to folks who didn't already know the score, and their numbers have been rising. We didn't need internet searches and quasi-research projects back in the day because we didn't think illegal Mexicans were saints being oppressed by the WASP elite.

    And even the mainstream media wasn't so bad back then. When was the last time they really raked the bureaucrats over the coals, like during the mid-'70s recession or the Iran-Contra scandal?

    They've become complete slaves to authority over the last 20 years. The only time they piped up was over Clinton getting a BJ from some fat chick.

    "Urban" crime used to be front-page news, and there was no deluge of sob stories about redlining, disparate impact, etc.

    And since they were just serving their audiences, it's clear that the average person has become a lot less questioning of top-down technocracy, open borders, and so on.

    Sadly most people don't use the internet to find out the truth, but to cocoon even further from the real world. Why learn from experience that Mexican immigrants are awful, when I read the HuffPo and keep my liberal beliefs intact?

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  11. Let's put some numbers on how increasingly clueless and pro-immigration the country has become since the mid-'90s, despite the internet. These are questions from the General Social Survey, the % giving the anti vs pro-immigrant response (leaving out fence-sitters).

    There has been a steady decline in the anti position, and a steady rise in the pro position. It's not always balanced -- in some cases the formerly anti people are just becoming apathetic fence-sitters who will go along with whatever is proposed.

    Year: Anti vs Pro-immigrant response

    America should exclude illegal imms
    1996: 77.6 vs 8.4
    2004: 69.4 vs 13.8

    Less or more immigration than now
    1994: 64.9 vs 6.5
    1996: 64.6 vs 8.4
    2000: 44.3 vs 9.6
    2004: 54.8 vs 10
    2006: 52.5 vs 12.2
    2008: 53.5 vs 11.7
    2010: 50.4 vs 13.7

    Undocumented should get work permits
    1994: 86.8 vs 13.2

    Anchor babies should be citizens
    2004: 13.4 vs 75.5

    Legal imms should have same rights as citizens
    2004: 46.3 vs 38.8

    Imms improve American society
    2004: 17.5 vs 58.6

    Imms increase crime rates
    1996: 34.4 vs 37
    2004: 25.9 vs 45.6

    Imms take jobs away
    1996: 47.9 vs 28.4
    2004: 43.5 vs 34.6

    Imms good for America
    1996: 33.4 vs 34
    2004: 23.9 vs 47

    People have had access to more and more information about these topics, yet they've only become more insulated from the real world.

    And anyway you don't need news stories or statistics to feel like you should preserve your community's cohesiveness and not allow in a bunch of amoral and traditionless foreigners. Shoot, primitive societies figured out that strategy, and they don't have any mass media at all.

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  12. "People are stupid ... I got to know people who shared my interests and intellectual level, which allowed me to be upwardly mobile and not be tied to family or the shallow jocks at my school."

    So what's in it for those who aren't self-conscious intellectuals, misanthropes / outcasts, and who like being close to their family?

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  13. "Is Sailer at all typical of his cohort? "

    He's in the tails, but yes there's a lot more in that range from his cohort than others, especially the later ones. It's not just the lack of ideological prudishness, but the Stoic attitude too.

    "I might as well cite Razib for the greatness of Gen-X or whatever younger generation he is."

    He's a later Gen X-er, and like I said they're better than Gen Y, and both a class apart from Millennials, although yes they still have a greater share of clowns compared to those born circa the early '60s.

    The youngest person worth reading is Audacious Epigone (what up dog), and I think he was born in '84, right at the end of Gen Y. Data galore, from all kinds of internet sources, and a mellow attitude.

    You (TGGP) are the only Millennial I know of who ever bothers using the GSS, quotations from books, etc.

    I don't think it's just that the Millennials aren't old enough to evaluate. People with enough brains used to do real research projects in high school and college, exploring all kinds of questions.

    And then look at what they're up to after age 22 -- Sailer's generation were the Yuppies who were ambitious, entrepreneurial, seizing the bull by the horns, working hard and partying hard. Not very different from their Roaring Twenties counterparts.

    Millennials in their 20s are still living at home, continuing their "education" (pointless delay of growing up), with no desire to blaze a trail, let alone cut loose at night.

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  14. I thought Generation Y and the Millenials were the same. At least, that's what Wikipedia says.

    GSS use doesn't seem particularly common among late Boomers either. The Inductivist uses it a lot, but even Sailer has never bothered to (perhaps because he expects to be able to link to others).

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  15. "So what's in it for those who aren't self-conscious intellectuals, misanthropes / outcasts, and who like being close to their family?"

    Well you can always not use the damn thing.
    Or move to Central Asia.

    To make your point you could do a list of good blogs divided by generation. I'm still not sold in that Sailer's generation is full of Sailers.

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  16. The youngest person worth reading is Audacious Epigone (what up dog), and I think he was born in '84, right at the end of Gen Y. Data galore, from all kinds of internet sources, and a mellow attitude.

    Who am I to disagree? (actually born late that year)

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  17. "I thought Generation Y and the Millenials were the same."

    There's no real consistent usage yet. Some people refer to Millennials as anyone after Gen X, but they don't really start until 1987 births. '85 and '86 births are a fuzzy area, but when you push them to see which side they fall on, more often than not it's with Millennials.

    I'm using Gen Y for the '79 to '84 births, but maybe I need a new term since that's not always how it's used...

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  18. The value of the internet has been as an incubator of a new countercultural intellectual movement tha doesn't have a fixed name yet but is know as alt-Right.

    Sailer, Auster, Roissy, being some of its founding voices.

    Elsewhere, I made an arguement that I don't have the time to go in-depth wiht here, but alt-Right is essenitally the resurrection of the Old Right.

    I also argued -- and this can also be used as a glib definition of alt-Right -- that it's a synthesis of Pat Buchannan and Camille Paglia. Think about it.

    Another way of defining the alt-Right is by saying that it's righties who lost faith in traditionally consevative institutions as fatally compromised: the GOP, churches, business, military, etc.

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  19. Agnostic wrote:
    Why learn from experience that Mexican immigrants are awful, when I read the HuffPo and keep my liberal beliefs intact?

    G W bush, who probably never used a computer in his life, said that he was surprised to learn that Americans resented Mexican immigrants. The Mexican servants his parents used were so kind!

    Experience is necessarily limited. If the only Mexicans someone knows are deferential gardeners and kind-hearted nannies working for his parents, that's experience, but it's rather limited.

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