Grasping at Straws: Wikipedia

Welcome to Grasping at Straws, the weekly blog where the unheralded, the underappreciated, and the long forgotten get their time to shine! Each week, I will “make the case” for an unpopular opinion regarding any topic or category of culture and life. Suggestions for future topics will be taken and considered at any of Sour Power’s social media channels, but please, keep it classy.

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We’re all taught that if you read plenty of books, you’ll undoubtedly increase your intelligence. Simple enough, right?

Acquiring knowledge from great works of literature has been the way of the world for, well, however long people have been writing and reading stories. Whether it’s fiction on non-fiction, with each flip of a page you’re enhancing your understanding of the world and life itself, until you eventually end up looking like Super Brain Sheen from Jimmy Neutron.

That’s how it has gone throughout all of human history. Read books, get smarter. That is, until the 21st century rolled around. Along with the explosion of millions of websites that contain varying degrees of knowledge, Wikipedia entered all our lives and changed the whole game. Wikipedia is so ubiquitous at this point that I’m confident I don’t need to establish any background for you on what it is. In fact, you almost certainly are more familiar with Wikipedia than you are with the word “ubiquitous.” Fear not, here is its Wikipedia page.

Of course, encyclopedia existed for centuries before Wikipedia arrived. I’m not saying that the mass collection of information had never existed before Wikipedia. My grand Straw that I’m Grasping at is that the most efficient way to gather untold amounts of knowledge is by diving down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. Given the organization of each Wikipedia page and the presence of countless links to other pages, hours spent on the website consuming information can provide more value than reading anything else.

Did you know that you could go from reading about candy to learning everything there is to know about Pearl Jam in the matter of 5 clicks? Your hand doesn’t even have to leave the mouse to type anything in to take yourself from the caramelization process to Eddie Vedder’s process in creating “Alive.” The breadth of topics you can cover, in unparalleled detail, in such a short amount of time is unrivaled anywhere else on the Internet and in print.

Wikipedia pages can also get extremely specific too, if that’s what you’re into. The “List of coffee drinks” page alone contains 5,000 words, and that’s certainly not including the gargantuan main “Coffee” page as well as all the other off-shoot pages related to everyone’s favorite morning beverage. In the matter of hours, you can become an expert on all things coffee without laying a single finger on your keyboard.

I know I’m most likely not breaking new ground here. Pretty much everyone is aware of what Wikipedia offers and how it works by now. Unfortunately, users’ ability to edit almost any page they want slightly complicates my whole point. But as long as you can verify any information you find on Wikipedia that you’re not 100% sure about someone else, you’re unlikely to really run into any problems. Spotting a user edit is often fairly easy and usually only occur for the purpose of a joke to be shared around the Internet.

Once you’re past all of that, Wikipedia becomes a straight-up magnificent tool to objectively learn about just about anything or anyone you want. The ease with which you can choose what you wish to learn about within a specific topic only further streamlines the entire process. Nowhere else can you consume the literary analysis of The Joker’s personality and behavioral traits with the thoroughness and thoughtfulness of Wikipedia. But oh, wait! You’re intrigued by this incredibly German-looking name that appears in this section: Friedrich Nietzsche. Boom, just like that you’re on your way to educating yourself about inherent morality and inconsistencies of nihilism. Who needs college anyway?

If you’re not looking to get that philosophical in your Wikipedia deep dives, I completely understand. So does Wikipedia. That’s why she offers countless pages dedicated to hundreds of years of celebrities, if that’s more your cup of tea. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have checked Wikipedia to look up where a certain famous person was born, or who they’re related to, or what high school they attended. It’s all there, waiting for you to go and find it.

As long as you’re willing to carefully read and consider as much text as possible in order to truly educate yourself on the topics you’re interested in, Wikipedia is a one-stop shop for legitimate enlightenment. Attention spans are shorter than ever nowadays, and skimming is a way of life among young scholars. Sure, Wikipedia can be useful in that regard, but that is absolutely not the way to optimize the information the website offers.

The real beauty of Wikipedia is only revealed when you realize you have no clue what time it is and your eyes forget what it’s like to look at anything but that black text on white background. Only when you spend the better part of an afternoon voraciously learning about a Civil War battle you saw get mentioned on Jeopardy! does it sink in how valuable Wikipedia can be. It’s a wondrous place full of potentially useless knowledge. That is, unless you find a use for all that knowledge.

Figuring out the correct way to channel your Wikipedia brain into a profitable venture is certainly a tall task, but not an impossible one. The trivia game show route is an unlikely one. But the YouTube personality route has become more and more viable, so perhaps that’s where your energy should be focused. I don’t know, I’m just a history and pop culture Wikipedia veteran who possesses a deep passion for deep dives. Simply knowing the information is often good enough for me. It’s up to you to decide where you want to take your Wikipedia expertise.

Any more words you read here takes away from words you could be reading on Wikipedia, so I now encourage you to head on over there and dive on in. There’s a whole section of the world that’s waiting for you to read about, and it’s a maximum of 5 clicks away. Allow yourself to be fully immersed in the rabbit hole. Embrace it. One day you just might emerge with the knowledge to alter the course of your life.

Or maybe, I’m just grasping at straws.