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February 18, 2009

My printed-material disease has led me to be something of a human trivia factory. I LOVE being a human trivia factory. If I don’t know it, I look it up online (because, you know, everything’s true on the Internet). Having Wikipedia at hand in the middle of Iowa is probably the main reason I bought an iPhone.

Still, it’s a little disconcerting when my mom calls me from her vacation in Delaware to ask me about a character from a TV show I used to watch in the ’80s. One day I asked her why she didn’t use Wikipedia more often.

“Oh, I just don’t trust it.”

“Well, you should have some healthy degree of skepticism, but… why not? Are you looking for something really crucial?” Because I KNOW that when I start with Judy Garland and end up half an hour later at the Albanian line of royal succession, each tidbit I absorb could someday save a baby seal or something. Riiiiight.

“Well… no…”

“Look at it this way,” I said. “You get Amazon Women on the Moon* while you’re playing Charades,** and afterward you can’t remember when it was released, so you go look it up online. Is that really going to have a global consequence?”

“I’m still not very comfortable with the idea.”

“Okay, but you’d believe it if your friend Diane told you, right?”

“Well… yeah…”

“And if Diane isn’t quite sure, you’d call your sister Mary and ask her, right?”


“And you call Diane and Mary because you trust them, and because you know that they want to tell you the right thing so you’ll continue to trust them. And if they tell you something that sounds fishy, it’s probably still okay, because you have your sister Amanda and your neighbors Joey and Jenny and, well, me. With me so far?”

“Uh huh.”

“Now, imagine that Wikipedia has thousands of tiny Dianes and Marys and Amandas and Joeys and Jennys inside, all working together to help you. Isn’t that nice?”

“That IS nice! I never thought of it that way!” she says.

Two weeks later, I get a call. “Who’s that character on Saturday Night Live…”

*NOTE: this is not a very nice selection for Charades
**Especially when you’re dealing with sixth-graders, some of whom may not actually know what the Amazon is. Thanks a lot.

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