Britannica stops the presses

and what that means in the new world order

If you haven’t heard yet, Encyclopedia Britannica is going to stop printing new editions and focus on their online effort.

My mother is working on a column about this and asked us for any memories of our use of the encyclopedias at home.

For what it’s worth, my son Basil will spend time with his Nook looking at different Wikipedia articles for hours. Encyclopedias encourage this sort of free-form exploration and, with the introduction of hyperlinks, it becomes much more natural.

Research is changing dramatically in the networked age and the New York Times offers us a blog post about ways to research online outside of just Wikipedia.

Wikipedia, alone, offers us a semi-truck sized chunk of information. It isn’t everything, but it is a good start.

From my point of view, a lot of the objections from professional writers to online, crowd-sourced information look like they’re simply using a false appeal to authority.

Our use of authority as a crutch — especially when information is so readily available — can cripple us. If you look at the online Encyclopedia Britannica, you’ll see a marked difference in side-by-side comparisons of articles. For example, compare the articles on the Soviet space shuttle Buran in Encyclopedia Britannica with Wikipedia’s.

The amateurs are winning the race so far.

The resistance I see from professional writers and librarians towards Wikipedia seems to revolve around two issues: Authority and Compensation.

Writers who consider themselves experts (journalists and college professors, for example) thinks Wikipedia should appreciate their finely crafted prose and respect their authority. They don’t like it when self-appointed deletionists blow away an article that they spent a lot of time on. They don’t like it when what they write isn’t immediately given credibility because they’ve been published in peer-reviewed journals.

And then there are those who see writing as something that they should be paid for. Yes, you should be able to live off of your work. But the value of your work goes down when someone else is willing to provide an acceptable replacement for just your work just because they enjoy it.

For example, if I’m an amateur ditch digger and dig ditches because I enjoy it, then, as long as I have other means of getting my basic needs taken care of, I could end up taking work away from the professional ditch diggers.

The world is changing, same as it always has.

One thought on “Britannica stops the presses”

  1. This is why non-professional, lay leaders are key to the growth of Christianity in the future. Keep it orthodox (doctrinal integrity in line with the early church’s teaching on glorifying the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit) and keep it fundamental (doctrinal integrity against contemporary deviations), but keep it missionary, that is, keep it going. Jesus himself was regarded to be a Wikipedia like heretic full of creative stories and interpretations of Scripture, but he proved to be the measure of all orthodoxy.

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