Tag Archives: public discourse

What happened to the promise of the internet?

Back in the fall of 2004, I had just entered high school and was really enjoying learning German. I had taken the first year of the sequence back in middle school, but then worked so far ahead in the workbooks that I ended up moving to the third year once I entered high school.

Just four years prior, Wikipedia was first launched, and I had already learned to ignore my teachers’ persistent warnings against it. Only having just entered high school, I quickly realized that whatever expertise I had was far below the current level of quality on Wikipedia. So I looked further, and found Wikibooks, a sister site focused on developing high-quality, open-source educational materials. From my experience, I had some ideas about how German should be taught, and spent my free time in the evenings building some of the content for that Wikibook. (For a taste of how I described my work there a couple of years later, see my user page.)

The emergence of Wikipedia and its sister sites was the first of the really special things that emerged last decade, the aughts or whatever we want to call it. The free access to information came with it the promise of universal education. And if widespread education could raise entire populations out of poverty, it invited us to believe that the 21st Century would bring us to higher and higher standards of living and public discourse. Little did we know…

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