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Why wiki

This post collects thoughts on the importance of the wiki practice and putting ourselves in question as much as we question interrelations through the collections and interrelations of ideas we make through wikis.

The word wiki, from the Hawaiian wikiwiki, was coined by Ward Cunningham, who began the Wiki Wiki Web, which had as a primary interest the discovery of Alexandrian design patterns in software. In the book he co-authored with Bo Leuf, The Wiki Way: Quick collaboration on the web (2001: 14) he provides the following etymology and definition of “the wiki concept”:

A glossary of Hawaiian words gives this definition:
Wikiwiki (stative verb). Fast, speedy; to hurry, hasten; quick, fast, swift.
This term turns up in numerous Hawaiian contexts, both formal and casual, in the simple sense “quick” or “informal”.
The Wiki Wiki Web server concept, most often called simply “a wiki”, originated with Ward Cunningham. A wiki is a freely expandable collection of interlinked Web “pages”, a hypertext system for storing and modifying information—a database, where each page is easily editable by any user with a forms-capable Web browser client. . . . The wiki is easy and quick to edit, thus inviting user contributions. In addition, if you follow the wiki naming conventions, pages automatically and elegantly interlink with each other in meaningful ways. . .
Wiki is unusual among group communication mechanisms in that it allows the organization of contributions to be edited in addition to the content itself.

As a creative and active restructuting, it mirrors the technological restructuring that is happening to our lives through the digital artefact, which materializes knowledge in a new way, changing not just the relation of differnt domain knowledges, but knowledge itself, according to Stiegler in The Neganthropocene (2018: 44):

Digital studies refers, firstly, to the study of the materiality and/or the corporeality of knowledge, that is, of the incorporation and materialization of noetic fluxes. Like writing, like the steam engine, the programmable loom and machine tools, . . . like all of these, the computer – . . . that is, the terminal of a network – is what causes a change in the relationships between knowledge and technics or knowledge and technology, and . . . a change in knowledge itself in all its forms. In this way, a new organological epoch of knowledge is constituted, amounting to a new epistēmē that calls for specific concepts.

The importance of cultivating interdisciplinary research is promoted by Jeremy Howard and Rachel Thomas’s fast.ai initiative, which brings learning resources to the digital community. Significantly to the discussion here, its conceptualization of education also contains components of the importance of interdisciplinary learning, like in this article on how qualitative humanities research is crucial to AI.

As amazing as our digital advances are, it is our responsibility to keep up, and one of the ways in which we can do this is by maintaining our own knowledge databases, interrelating relevant knowledge. As Stiegler says, this is a new “retentional epoch” (2018: 34), where “arrangements of psychic and collective retentions and protentions are made possible by . . . artificial retentional organs”. The arrangement of knowledge through the wiki can be organized in many different ways as I have learned from Alex Schroeder.

In Stiegler’s words (2018: 36), “technics challenges us and puts us into question today”:

It confronts us with an unprecedented question, and this question is all the more daunting given that, at the very time this question arises, we also see the rise of the possibility and the temptation of erasing the very possibility of questioning and being put into question.

I’d like to just think through one application of what it means to be put in question that is related to teaching and so-called 21st century skills: namely, the importance of being reflexive and reflective. In the words of Lina Markauskaite and Peter Goodyear’s tome on Epistemic Fluency and Professional Learning (2017), we are to learn to consci(enti)ously assemble epistemic artefacts, tools, people, and activities. One way of doing this is through wiki writing practice.

A reflective, reflexive, consci(enti)ous wiki is one that involves continuous cultivation, or, a practice of digital gardening, which permits periodic weeding. Not like what Alex writes about as data toxicity, which he distinguishes from the power of “forgive and forget”.

I was reminded when I reread his posts of the wiki ethos, which is visible on, for example, the Meatball Wiki in the barn raising ethos of its mission, why wiki works, and Pygmalion effect, which is a component of community expectation (Wayback Machine links).

Some things stay: words, emotions, pictures, when important enough, they stay. But forgetting is hard. What to forget? How to determine what is going to be boring? What programmer would want to make such decisions. This is why our programs don’t forget stuff. It’s too difficult. — Alex

Sometimes, as one is learning to relate epistemic artefacts, one might make mistakes, or engage in somewhat sloppy thinking — which is likely when one is focused on mastering new material or recognizing the essence of similarities through difference, rather than details. I have noted a need to delete or add to this very wiki-like blog of mine. Just this morning I deleted the kind of pesky extraneity that brings no value.

Wiki writing involves what in programming, like in database maintenance, is known as CRUD: Create, Read, Update, Delete. So, this is just a friendly reminder to myself and to any readers that the essence of the wiki involves a revision-making mindset and is a work in process, which is an organic and sustainable concept! . . . and one related to the phenomenology of re-presencing the digital trace. . .

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