Wikipedia Surfing

Has Wikipedia sucked hours out of your life, as it has mine?

There’s a dangerous new phenomenon out there. Wikipedia surfing. You start with one topic, see an interesting link, click on it, see another interesting link, click on that, and after a few hours, you’re on a completely different topic and full of interesting trivia.

Or, if you’re like me, you’ll open up multiple tabs, one for each new interesting link. And after a few hours, you’re on ten completely different topics and full of even more interesting trivia.

There’s even the Six Degrees of Wikipedia game, where you start with one topic, then find the shortest path to another topic. All you have to do is throw in some badges and you’ve turned a dangerous new phenomenon into a dangerous, yet fun new phenomenon. And that’s “dangerous” in terms of “OMG where did all those hours go?”, not the threat of harm or death, though if you don’t get up to pee and eat every once in a while, that may happen.

Why is it about Wikipedia this enables behavior? This fragmented attention, where curiosity follows a web of tangents just for the sake of curiosity?

I believe it’s because Wikipedia is hypertext at its best. It’s even the realization of Tim Berners-Lee’s origin vision of the World Wide Web – a solution to presenting and sharing massive amounts of inter-related information. Turns out, hyperlinks aren’t only a fantastic way of leading a reader to related information, but also a great enabler of tangential information surfing.

It’s arguably even a step better than the Web, because every Wikipedia page is a topic of potentially interesting information. I sure can’t say the same about every page in the Web.

There’s already the phenomenon of web surfing: viewing websites and following interesting links. Wikipedia just offers more educational value.

So perhaps Wikipedia surfing isn’t all that bad. At least I’m filling my head with interesting trivia. And perhaps one day, I’ll get a badge for finding out that in 2005, a gigantic 20-foot pink stuffed rabbit was erected on a 5,000-foot hill in the northern Piedmont region of Italy.

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.

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