I have been fortunate enough in this life to have very few addictions; Doctor Who probably, Wes Anderson movies most likely, and Wikipedia definitely.
Last year Wikipedia went dark for something like forty-eight hours in solidarity with freedom of internet expression or something like that. It was the worst forty-eight hours of my life. I didn’t think it would be. I didn’t think it through. I knew I checked things on Wikipedia a lot but I didn’t realize how reliant I had become upon having information provided to me at the click of a button.
When I was little my mother bought me this book called A First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy and I realized that being culturally literate was something I desired above all else. And thus I started collecting information. I read through that book making sure I knew things. And it covered a lot of information in a slim volume; architecture, history, art, geography, science, and probably whatever other category you can imagine. Whenever I heard of something I didn’t know a lot about I would rush home to my dictionary of cultural literacy to check the facts. And more often than not there was an entry.
I lived at my school library. During free periods I could always be found in the back perched at one of the tables. Sometimes I’d just be doing homework, sometimes reading or writing, or creating island communities for me to command, but often I would be pouring over some reference book or another, collecting information.
And a lot of it would come from movies. I’ve always been a fan of historical fiction, mostly because I enjoy time periods I wasn’t alive for, but also because, while I love the displayed stories, I love researching the historical aspects.
This was the age before computers were so commonplace. We had them, of course, we had computer labs and Library PCs. We had Angelfire websites with sad graphics and courier new type. We had America Online and chatrooms. We had floppy disks. We might have had online encyclopedias but we usually just used the leather back Britannicas.
Wikipedia launched in 2001, I had just started college and professors still required book bibliographies. I don’t remember being entrance that early. There was a major problem; Wikipedia (and all Wikimedia products) is written by pretty much anyone who wants to write an article. Now it seems they have a method of editing fairly quickly and taking down erroneous or deliberately wrong information. Back then they were not quite so quick. It was a problem, but also what made Wikipedia possible in the first place.
So perhaps my life as a collector of information can be broken down thus; my Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, movies, and finally Wikipedia. All these things illustrate a perfect jumping off point. If I were trying to create an elaborate and educated reference to a certain event or idea then I would by no means be using Wikipedia as my sole source any more than I would have used my First Dictionary of Cultural Literacy or a film, but it’s a perfect place to get an overview. The perfect place to become culturally literate. I can’t get enough.
A typical day finds me reading or watching or writing something when a thought alights on my consciousness. I must look it up, so on to Wikipedia I go. Then, because they have handy links to other pages, I move on to another page. Then another and another until I realize an hour has passed and I am on a page that hardly relates to the one where I started.
For example these searches shaped an evening not long ago;
I read somewhere about the town of Hanga Roa, I looked it up and discovered it was capital of the Chilean province Easter Island, which naturally brings to mind the mysterious moai, strangely creepy statues erected around the island (and clearly what makes Easter Island as famous as it is). Which brought me to ponder whether or not the moai were included in the New7Wonders of the World (They’re not. They’re the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, Chichen Itza in Yucatan, Mexico, Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Coliseum in Rome, Italy, The Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu in Cuzco Region, Peru, and Petra in Ma’an Governorate, Jordan.) Which clearly lead me to the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and thus to the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Then back to the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and on to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and their constructor Nebuchadnezzer II, because his name always tickled me pink. And then finally, because who can think of Babylon without it, the Tower of Babel.
My curiosity was sated for a time, but then, again, I came upon a mention of Hampstead Heath, and although I already know plenty about it I felt the need to look it up, if only for the pictures. Well, Hampstead Health then brought me to John Keats, because of his living in Wentworth Place at the edge, where he met Fanny Brawne. Keats then brought me to Naples since he died there, but I was much more into the lives of Romantic poets than cities in Italy so I went back to Keats and on to Percy Bysshe Shelley (my favorite poet if anyone asked) then to his stepsister-in-law Claire Clairmount, who happens (very coincidentally, except not all all) to share a name with a major character in the book I am currently writing which takes place in Westchester County, New York and thus Rye Playland.
Sometimes topics don’t wander that far and sometimes they start on islands off Chile and end with mythical towers to heaven. But the fact remains I love random information. Usually the sort that no one cares about when I start babbling on about what I know about one thing or another, but, oh well, that’s me.