Thursday, January 19, 2012

Life Without Wikipedia

By now, if you haven't been living under a rock, you know about yesterday's protest against SOPA, the anti-piracy bill currently being considered by the U.S. Wikipedia, YouTube, Reddit, and many other popular sites either shut down or organized protests and teach-ins against the bill. And the U.S. government, incredibly, is taking notice.

This post is not about SOPA. You can find far more authoritative columns than mine about the problems with the proposed legislation, pretty much anywhere right now. No, I'm considering what life would be like Wikipedia were permanently shut down.

It's a scary thought.

When I was growing up, we had a twenty volume set of the Encyclopedia Americana. I spent many happy hours pouring through its pages. By the time I inherited the massive set, though, it was sadly out of date. After all, my parents had bought it the year I was born. (They obviously realized they'd spawned an egghead and bookworm!) I still held on to it for the sake of nostalgia, as well as for the historical articles that (mostly) were still accurate.

When my husband and I sold our house and moved to Asia, the encyclopedia was one of the many possessions we jettisoned. Of course we didn't replace it - we don't have children ourselves, and in any case, there's always the Internet - right?

At one point I swore that I wouldn't get dependent on the 'net. Alas, that's one vow I haven't been able to keep, though perhaps my addiction is less serious than some people. I probably check facts in Wikipedia a couple times a day. It's not at all unusual for my husband and I to raise some point of dispute over dinner, and for one of us to run off to our home office to consult the online authorities. I've been known to get out of bed, just out of curiosity, to refresh my memory about something or to dig just a bit deeper with regard to whatever I'm currently reading.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia is often my starting point for researching my stories. I spent days reading multiple articles about Varanasi, Parvati, and Shiva before writing my succubus story "Naked in Varanasi". I used Wikipedia extensively for research on the Mayans, while working on "Serpent's Kiss". And I'll often flip over to the site to look for photos of historical costumes, or maps of places where my book is set, or a million other little details.

What would I do if the site went dark? Well, obviously there are other sources of information on the Internet, some of them probably more authoritative, but a lot harder to find, I'll bet. Anyway, if Wikipedia were silenced by government legislation, lots of other sites would likely be affected too. Censorship has a way of spreading - like cancer. And the thing about SOPA is that it allows anyone to complain that your site infringes copyrights and force you off the 'net.

Hmm. I have no doubt that many people don't approve of what I write, considering it wicked, perverted, obscene, even criminal. What would it take for them to shut down my website or blog, if SOPA became law?

Not much, I gather. Which is a chilling notion. Without an online presence, an author today might as well not even exist.

Even if Wikipedia's still around, my site may not be.

I guess this post is about SOPA after all.

1 comment:

widdershins said...

The global response was rather astounding ... kind of an 'occupy the internet'

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