We should preserve encyclopedias. (EN)

Ok, the headline might be cheesy. But stay with me, so I can make my argument. One of the reasons I ended up with thinking about encyclopedias is the growing divide within societies. Not only in US, which was obvious and extremely naked during the past presidential elections, but in other parts of the world as well. I can speak for what I see in Europe and the principle is not much different. Part of it is what we tend to call social bubbles. But what does it mean?

Firstly it is not only social media, even though they are doing their fair share of work. The obstacle lays within the digital world per se. Let’s take Google for example, every time you look for something, the algorithm is trying to aid you and give you a relevant result. Trying to help you get faster where you want to be based on where you are, what it knows about you, what your browser cookies tell it, what your Google profile tells it etc. This can vary dramatically only by region, because it takes into account let’s say the majority of Hungarians and what they are searching for, which will probably by different than trends over the same topic in Japan. Not much different than if you go to your favorite bar and the bartender remembers that YOU like vodka-martini with two olives. Social media are doing the same. They are trying to learn what you are looking at, in order to give you relevant content. YouTube, the same – you watch a lot of NBC news? Probably going to show you CNN as well, but your feed is not going to get much of Fox… do you see where I am heading?

Photo by James on Unsplash

So what, might you think? In itself, it’s not bad (remember the bartender?), we used to have this before as well. The difference is that next to something that was somewhat fringe (as today) and a group of people pushed it as the only truth (as today) you still had a lot of curated content (e.g. mainstream media, or scholars, or encyclopedia). So inevitable you a) met a lot of people that had a different world view and b) you were exposed in large to different opinions. This forced us to compromise because we were aware of different sets of information. We can still do that, might you argue…

…the difference I see is, that if you get interested in a certain topic, the digital world tends to flood you with this only view and people/friends who share it. Naturally you have almost no chance to be exposed to diversity. It is a form of absolute freedom which carries a responsibility. The responsibility which requires a) talent or b) skill. Skill can make up for talent, but needs to be taught… honestly which one of you is able to teach these concepts to your kids? The situation right now is as if I opened Wikipedia.org (or Encyclopedia Britannica) and it would customize the definition based on what it thinks would make me feel well and/or spend money… and my wife would get a different definition of the same word.

That is why we need to support curated work and curated media and encyclopedias. They might be relics in today’s world, but they do play an important role in balancing out the uncurated mainstream media of today which serve to billions around the globe in the form of search engines and social media. And no, they are not interchangeable, they are complements and the curated work is the minority we should not banish, but support…#curatedcontent  

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