Mark Bauerlein, occasional reason contributor and author of the provocative and exhaustingly subtitled book The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30), has come up with a legitimately interesting critique of my favorite online resource:
The site is criticized for its superficiality, erroneousness, and amateurism, but, in fact, Wikipedia provides ready access to a fact, definition, or overview. No, the real problem with Wikipedia is a stylistic one. Read a dozen entries on the similar topics and they all sound the same. The outline is formulaic, the prose numbingly bland. Sentences unfold in tinny sequence. Perspectives arise in overcareful interplay. If a metaphor pops up, it's a dead one. Consider the entry on Moby-Dick:
Ahab seeks one specific whale, Moby-Dick, a great white whale of tremendous size and ferocity. Comparatively few whaling ships know of Moby-Dick, and fewer yet have knowingly encountered the whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab's boat and bit off Ahab's leg. Ahab intends to exact revenge on the whale.
Compare that to a sentence from Collier's Encyclopedia, first published in 1950: "As he makes very clear to Starbuck, his first mate, Captain Ahab envisions in Moby-Dick the visible form of a malicious Fate which governs man thoughtlessly…" Or the description of Ahab in the 1953 Encyclopedia Americana: "a crazed captain whose one thought is the capture of a ferocious monster that had maimed him…" Or even this in CliffsNotes from 1966: "Ahab's monomania is seen then in his determination to view the White Whale as the symbol of all the evil of the universe."
Wikipedia, concludes Bauerlein, an English prof at Emory, is "a useful repository of information, but as a model of discourse, it's a killjoy."
reason on Wikipedia creator and libertarian visionary Jimmy Wales.