RSS Club: When Hot Takes are Too Hot

Created: 2022-10-08

(Note: I’m going to break my rule and link between RSS Club posts here. I don’t intend to make this a habit.)

So yesterday’s School vs Wikipedia post hit the front page of Hacker News and it’s still lingering there at the very bottom this morning.

screencap from the fight club movie with quote 'Which means a lot of you have been breaking the first two rules of fight club

Ha ha, it’s all good. This is all to encourage "RSS" usage and a feeling of community outside of the walled gardens of the Web and I wouldn’t be surprised if this helped a few more folks got hip to the whole thing yesterday.

But it was pretty eye-opening to realize how poorly I presented my actual argument by not including important context right up front. I get the impression most folks thought I was talking about:

Citing an encyclopedia for research papers is a debate that long predates Wikipedia and has absolutely nothing to do with what I was upset about.

Nor was I arguing that Wikipedia is the best source for any given topic. Of course not. It’s an encyclopedia. That’s not one of its goals.

This is what I’m saying:

To understand what I was upset about, you need the full context. So it’s this:

  • My young children are being lead to believe that Wikipedia is bad.

  • They are being encouraged to search the Web (with Google, of course).

  • And any other source seems to be okay, as long as it’s not Wikipedia!

My frustration is that final bullet point, which is such utter bunk that it makes me livid. (There, you see the passion coming back in my writing? But no profanity yet.)

Again, we’re talking about elementary school children here. I realize it’s been a long time since a lot of us have been in elementary school, but trust me when I say that this has almost nothing to do with the sort of research most people people were clearly imagining.

(I noticed that there were some fellow parents that chimed in on the HN comments who clearly knew exactly what I was talking about. So at least now I know I’m not alone in this surreal experience. And if you have little kids, you don’t know what your teachers are telling them, but you do know what they think they’re being told.)

That’s really it.

I’m not promoting Wikipedia over doing "real research," whatever that means to you.

I’m not saying Wikipedia is the last word on any given topic.

I’m not promoting the use of encyclopedias as cite-able sources.

I freaking love books of all kinds.

I mean, just as one example, one of my favorite subjects is computers and computer history. I’m one of those people who is still keeping the modern computer book publishers alive and I also buy and read a lot of used computer books from as far back as the 1970s to "learn from the ancients". I devour primary sources.

That’s why it’s so frustrating to think that anyone reading my rant thought I was promoting quick and easy Web answers over deep learning about any subject. That’s, like, the opposite of my opinion!

(But you’re damn right I think Wikipedia is an awesome way to get a quick introducton to a subject I know nothing about and I use it all the time. Do you not? What do you use for that?)

But to bring this back to the real point: Being misunderstood was entirely my fault because I wrote too quickly and too passionately and didn’t even consider that others didn’t have the same context I did going into the argument.

(I mean, I did highlight my actual frustration later, but I know better than to expect people to carefully read the whole thing because quite often I’m that people. Ha ha.)

I’m going to be more careful in the future.