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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptical Inquirer > March April 2017 > Let Your Questioning Start with Wikipedia

Let Your Questioning Start with Wikipedia

Do you remember January 18, 2012? That was the day many websites protested the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), which were proposed laws in the U.S. Congress. Wikipedia for a whole day blacked out their site, instead displaying the message “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge” and asking people to “make your voice heard.” Social media lit up with discussions about what it would be like not to have a resource like Wikipedia. Even though I was more than aware of the Wikipedia blackout, I tried three times to access the site to get more information about something. Each time I got the blackout screen, I said to myself, “Susan, what are you doing?” It was just a reflex, like when you lose your phone and your first reaction is to call people and tell them you can’t find your phone.

Wikipedia seems to have been around for decades. It permeates our online experience. In fact, Wikipedia has existed only since January 15, 2001. That means that we are starting to see people graduate from high school and college who don’t remember a time when Wikipedia didn’t exist.

This world of instant information is much different from the world I grew up in. When I graduated from high school in 1980, we had three channels on the TV, one hour of news coverage, public libraries, and the Encyclopedia Britannica for our information. If we wanted to know something about a topic that was unusual—such as the Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot, or the subject that scared me the most, spontaneous human combustion (SHC)—our resources were limited.

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