Saturday, September 24, 2011

Guest Blogs--Theological Reflections on Wikipedia

So I gave my students an assignment to read Wikipedia and the Death of the Expert and to write a short theological reflection as a blog post. Here are a couple of good ones--the first from Paul, an Aussie priest, and the second from Nhien, a Vietnamese SVD student. 


In ten seconds or less, think of 5 THINGS ABOUT FIRE…. I bet you included something good and something dire! Hold that thought. Names like Gutenberg, Edison and Armstrong … and labels like Industrial, Renaissance and Modern all mark human unfolding. But fire, just think of IT. Making IT unleashed technology, movement and the SHARING OF STORY, like never before.

Humans now lived out of caves and over mountain and plain, safe from beasts amidst barriers of fire. No more sent to bed by the sun; no more confined by the day. AND SO let story tellers tell in the night ‘round the glow; let the children ask and jostle to know; let newfound dreams such doings sow.  

To glow and know … and so … Wikipedia; the pride of some … the target of others. Good or dire? Amidst the great shifts created by fire (yes, IT again) how many children only learned through scalded fingers to tame and master this vexed new power? Democratising of capacity and story; is that a way of seeing fire? Democratising of scholarship; that’s the pride of Wiki’s friends and of proponents of democratising scholarship through the collaborative shifts of label internet’s power. You further the fire link, but note, the dire burnt fingers didn’t dump the development. 

As theology, faith seeking understanding, searches the human story, much abounds in human ingenuity to mark. Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ reveals even theological relevance as the collaborative scholarship of Wikipedia and similar dynamics of doing learning reveal values and capacity. What scripture scholarship calls a corrective matrix for its interplay of research, speculation and application, Wikipedia has remarkably established among its network of volunteer minds, tools, administrators and arbitrators. In this is a ground upwards acknowledgement that excellence of mind and/or process isn’t the reserve of an elite. And Wikipedia’s levels of accuracy may imply a wider spread human ethic of seeking the good than often presumed. This so-called democratisation of scholarship is arguably firing a breadth of ordinary human scholarly potential, a vote for human dignity.

Yes indeed, for the democratisation of scholarship, the shifts enabled by the internet’s medium invite theology’s principle of subsidiarity. Let those who properly can, do! May burnt fingers lead us well to tame and master, not dump the dignity of such development.

 The theological implications of Wikipedia and the democratization of scholarship

Nowadays, people from different parts of the world can get in touch easily, get to learn from each other more conveniently, and understand the surrounding world broadly and profoundly; many mysterious things are uncovered by so many available sources of knowledge. It’s not because the size of the earth is getting smaller, but because of the enormous contributions of the technology of communication to the world today.

One of the most recognizable impacts of technology that Maria Bustillos discussed in her article, Wikipedia and The Death of The Expert, is the usage of Wikipedia as well as its contributions to academic studies and to the spirit of collaboration among good writers.  Apparently, Wikipedia not only brings its own advantages that offer rich and comprehensive sources of materials for doing research or necessary studies, but also plays the role of a bridge to connect oneself to the outside world, of a kind of “machine” to break through the shell of oneself to reach out to others, and also of the public entry, where all voices are welcome to contribute their thoughts and ideas to enrich the world of knowledge and information.   As David Lochhead comments on the work of McLuhan in a very spiritual and theological sense, “We take our technology into the deepest recesses of our souls. Our view of reality, our structures of meaning, our sense of identity—all are touched and transformed by the technologies which we have allowed to mediate between ourselves and our world.”  Experiencing what is going on in the surrounding world, deepening the meaning of everything, and knowing the identity of oneself through the technology of Wikipedia are possible sources of  theological implications recognized behind the rich source materials of Wikipedia.   Other than that, Wikipedia allows other voices to be heard in contributing their talents and capability to the progression of literature in the field.  It shows a great collaboration among writers, who are also great thinkers. In a similar vein, Melody McMahon contributes an interesting point in her article, Wikipedia and Democratization of Scholarship that, “The collaboration can go even further and maybe the time for rapprochement between ‘professional scholars’ and ‘amateur scholars’ has come.” 

Besides all the advantages that the technology of Wikipedia has contributed to the world of knowledge, the growth of a human person in knowing oneself and the outside world, and the “charity” in allowing other voices to be heard are the great theological implications of Wikipedia and democratization of scholarship.

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