Yesterday, the illustrious Charles W. Hayford made a public confession, in which he said:
My name is Charles and I'm a Wikipedia addict.
Like many others, he is talking about the trials and tribulations of writing and editing wikipedia articles.
Not all that I long ago, I wrote a post (here) about the manner in which google has completely transformed the profession of translation. I described a situation whereby nowadays, rather than being surrounded by books with time and space to really get just the right wording, non-literary translators are basically aiming at more of a machine-like quality-- so that Japanese word x is always translated to English word y and all the proper nouns are run through google to find the established (standardized 定訳）translation.
Many of my clients, in fact, want precisely that machine-like quality-- no matter how badly it may sound.
In my post, I chose google-- or as translators often refer to it as St. Google. I could have just as easily used wikipedia or some of the online dictionaries I use, which are based on the very same principles however. Yesterday, in fact, I was working on a translation about the history of Xiamen, and I chose all the English spellings and conventions based on several wiki articles. Wiki is also where I found all the standard translations of some short stories by Lu Xun I required. Indeed, if it's good enough to appear on wikipedia, even if a book by an established scholar says something different, my translation agency most probably would still feel more confident with something online.
Without a doubt, having these online tools raised the quality of my finished product yesterday- in particular in terms of standardization and a certain kind of accuracy.
However, in the same way that Nicholas Carr asked, Is Google Making us Stupid? I think that Charles Hayford is wise to step back and ask, "Is this necessarily a good thing?" He brings up some really good points in his Post, which I really recommend.
While the eminent Mr. Conrad Roth has many of the same worries and concludes here that,
Mark my words, the internet is going to make bloody idiots of us all, soon enough. It won't be Facebook or Myspace—although they will help—it'll be EEBO, Wikipedia and Google Books
I have another friend-- a man who has studied such things in the Russian Academy of Sciences, who insists that,
I firmly believe that this ability makes us more intelligent, not more stupid, but it is true that:
>>The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.
It's a medical fact that new information, novelty, releases a flood of dopamine (a neurotransmitter associated with motivation and pleasure) in the nucleus accumbens in the brain. New information acts on the brain in the same way cocaine does (release of dopamine in the brain), only at a lower level. The Internet gives us the ability to search and quickly find new bits of information at will and forms the habit of moving from one juicy bit to another in endless succession. Thus, the Internet serves as a drug, and Internet users are drug addicts. I guess modern writers have to consider that they are talking to a bunch of stoners who constantly need extra accumbal stimulation; as for all those geniuses from the past, when they launch into a three-page description of evening clouds, etc... oh, it's all over for them!
Even though I am one of those endangered cloud watchers, still I bet no one will be surprised to hear that when it comes to the Internet, rather than being on the pro or con side, I remain in the "let's think about it" camp-- as I guess I think it all comes down to forcing oneself to step back and take a moment to decide how exactly we want to relate to this technology.
Indeed, like all technology, the Internet aims at a kind of transparancy so by virtue of its own stunning Efficiency, it makes other practices become obsolete. And whether this is a good thing or not, I think it depends on one's aims.
It's like TV. In no way do I think it is a categorically bad practice (that is, the practice of watching TV) And yet, when I sat back and really reflected on it, I realized that, it's not for me. Nor are cars or cell phones. In the same way, I am interested in how I can
relate myself to technology in a way that not only resists its devasatation but also gives it a positive role in my life
And I agree with Dreyfus that this is perhaps the question of our generation.
The other evening a friend, who is also a translator (of not one but three languages) mentioned how when he lived in a remote area of Africa, he worked under the slowest Internet connection in the world. My immediate feeling was: Never! I mean really, because of the languages involved looking things up in a dictionary (even an electronic one) would be painful-- unbearable, in fact. Not to mention, the quality of my finished product (as defined by my field) would plummet.
But, we don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water either. Are you like many others who perhaps read a lot less books nowadays?
Dreyfus, in the same essay, has a chart to compare the two styles of information/knowledge organization:
a. quality of editions
Access to everything
a. inclusiveness of editions
a. disciplinary standards
a. user friendliness
a. preservation of a fixed text
a. intertextual evolution
Dreyfus didn't include this but I absolutely agree with Charles that online sources have encouraged a kind of anti-intellectualism disguised as anti-elitism (so in this sense, Conrad's conclusion may have a real point). Dreyfus sums up that,
It is clear from these opposed lists that more has changed than the move from control of objects to flexibility of storage and access. What is being stored and accessed is no longer a fixed body of objects with fixed identities and contents. Moreover, the user seeking the information is not a subject who desires a more complete and reliable model of the world, but a protean being ready to be opened up to ever new horizons. In short, the postmodern human being is not interested in collecting but is constituted by connecting.
For more on our Internet selves, why not ask Kierkegaard what he thinks about the Internet!
Personally, I wonder what Borges would have thought? Speaking of which, I just read that the gorgeous New Library of Alexandria doesn't have enough books!
And for the record, I agree with Languagehat, who in a recent post about the pleasures of creating wiki articles, said, "It's nice to feel I'm contributing to the sum of human (or English-speaking, at any rate) knowledge in this way." While I've never participated in wikipedia except as a "consumer"-- I can understand wholeheartedly why someone would want to contribute (for that's what it is: a contribution).
Living with Wikipedia: It's Here to Stay by Charles W. Hayford
Looking forward to part 2.
And for my fellow translator of three languages-- this was perhaps the Golden Age. Hear about Caliph al-Mamun's glorious dream here.
Not recommended reading: The future of planet google.