Wikipedia – A Vernacular Encyclopedia (Datacide Version)

Wikipedia evolved from a different project Nupedia which focused on engaging with highly qualified academics who, it was hoped, would apply their scholarship to the development of an online encyclopedia. However, right at the beginning of this project Wikipedia was set up as a piece of cyberspace where people could experiment and develop material for the main project . . . but the open framework of Wikipedia meant that it attracted a much broader range of contributors. Something fell into place as the level of participation enabled a viable form of crowd-sourcing to emerge. Soon the vernacular offshoot overshadowed what had been considered the main project. (For more info see HERE).

The Reformation Version of the Vernacular

I am using the term “vernacular” in order to contextualise various phenomena which have been described as the “knowledge revolution”, the “information revolution” or the “digital revolution” in a broader historical framework. Whereas the new cyber-entrepreneurs wish to stress how their technological innovations are new!-new!-new!, I look at the impact of new cyber-technologies principally in terms of European religious reformation and the advent of the book.

Max Weber pointed out some time ago in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism how capitalism is linked to the development of reading. Here he reflects on Luther’s notion of beruf, or calling, and focuses on the importance of the book. This view was then turned inside out by Marshall McLuhan, who identifies technology as the motor of social change. The predictive quality of his books The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and Understanding Media (1964) – which in many ways foresaw the culture of the internet – make his view quite seductive. And it is more than understandable that such a fetishised view of technology should prove attractive to the cyber-entrepreneurs: the gleaming new commodities magically transform society, through a sleight of hand where the role of human beings as human actors has been replaced by simulacra, by automatons. [Read more →]