I’m a college dropout who knows the word sesquipedalianism. I know the pituitary glands produce the adrenocorticotropic hormone, which stimulates the cortex of the adrenal gland. I even know how to operate a semi-rigid aeronautical zeppelin. And all thanks to Wikipedia. With over 4,600,000 articles and an unlimited number of editors, Wikipedia dwarfs Britannica with an endless supply and refinement of articles. Britannica may not have a detailed outline of every Hogan’s Heroes episode, but since when was knowledge supposed to be bourgeoisie?
Of course, Wikipedia’s main shortcoming is just the opposite: it’s got an infinite amount of space and innumerable volunteer contributors (you can be one, too) busily creating entries for everything from the current Israel-Lebanon conflict to the The O-Bahn Busway in the South Australian capital city of Adelaide, but millions of those editors don’t have the slightest idea what they’re talking about. A bucktoothed yahoo who dropped out of grade school has exactly the same authority over content on Wikipedia as a Harvard professor with five PhDs.
But does that stop me from soaking up an education on the internet? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t spend more than 15 minutes studying for a test in school, but now I’ll spend hours reading articles about loggerhead turtles and jet propulsion for no reason at all. A lot of explanations for this come to mind. First, it seems infinitely harder to pull out an actual dictionary than to log onto Dictionary.com. Hard-bound encyclopedias are completely out of the question, with all those volumes and pages. Looking up an article on Wikipedia takes approximately 10 minutes less than digging up the same information in an encyclopedia (supposing you have one at arms length). And oh, the wonder of cut and paste.
Friends of mine will devote hours to an ostensibly “educational” website while simultaneously cutting class. Perhaps it’s the lack of pressure involved. For some strange reason it feels good to me to drop out and study more than the average college student. I retain more 411 jumping from link to link than I ever did getting lectured by some underpaid instructor. Maybe the bells and whistles of some trendy website finally tricked me into getting an education in a state full of shoddy institutions. I probably just identified the geekiest form of rebellion.
While replacing college with independent research probably destroys my chances of ever being paid a respectable salary and assures I’m spouting off incorrect information as often as not, there are redeeming advantages. Case in point: I’m a cashier at a downtown parking garage during the 11 p.m.-7 a.m. graveyard shift. This article is being written at work. Thirty minutes ago I charged a customer $10.50 to exit. He angrily cried, “That’s fucking outrageous! Don’t you think that’s fucking insane?!” I responded, “Are you asking me my philosophical viewpoint on capitalism?”
I may have it wrong, but at least I sound like I know what I’m talking about.
Still, how could I be wrong? I read it on the internet.