Open-source information democratizes the knowledge landscape. In a world with tightly gated access to information, those without resources face an uphill battle learning about the world. I have recently come to national attention for my demonstration of knowledge. That knowledge comes not from a privileged life exposed to international wonders through expensive experiences, but from a curious mind given access to a virtual tour of the world at my fingertips. Through relentless questioning and access to the highly structured information reservoir that is Wikipedia, I've equipped myself with a vast array of knowledge and entertained myself along the way.
In Slumdog Millionaire, Dev Patel knows trivia answers from deeply personal memories relating to the underlying facts. Did I recall my trip through the Canadian prairies to help me answer a question about the provinces separated by the Continental Divide? Did I identify a skink because of the family safari I was taken on as a kid? Did I reminisce over seeing Cats on Broadway when I responded with "What's 'Memory'?" No, no, and no. I have been able to experience some things in my lifetime, but through Wikipedia I have free access to the experiences of millions of other lifetimes, too!
There is no resource I use more than Wikipedia. By perusing information at varying levels of depth, I can introduce myself to an entirely foreign concept without getting overwhelmed or I can obtain key details deep in the weeds on a specific topic. A person unfamiliar with Jeopardy! can take an initial reading of its page for general understanding of what it is. That person may run across the word "syndicated" and be unfamiliar with the concept of syndication. On first reading, they needn't be. But on the second reading, that person may choose to dive into the world hidden underneath the blue underlined text. The page on broadcast syndication then discusses business considerations like broadcast networks, technology development like videotape, and even specific popular culture like Abbott and Costello. By dipping one's toes a little deeper each time, somebody can start out curious about an individual game show and come out with a broad picture of the evolution of television over the decades. Wikipedia’s structure serves people at every level of prior knowledge.
Beyond learning trivia, I use Wikipedia in my research. My work often places me at an intersection of multiple disciplines, for example artificial intelligence and biology. While I have expertise in the AI side, I sometimes lack even basic understanding of the biological domains that my colleagues who are experts in that side think are common sense. They usually gained their knowledge through expensive years of academic study with dense textbooks and professional educators. I can catch up with a free online resource!
Wikipedia provides everybody who has basic internet access with more knowledge than was available to the best-educated princes of yesteryear. The 18th century image of educating your child was sending him to a famous master or of having him embark on the Grand Tour. Neither of these options were available to any but the upper classes, and they only provided a well-rounded education in the cramped sense of the term used at the time. The 21st century image needs only the barest of modern equipment and is available nearly universally across nationalities, classes, genders, and every other dimension. We live in a world that is increasingly focused on what skills and knowledge you have, as opposed to what formal qualifications like degrees you have. This is empowering to a cohort of brilliant young minds eager to take on the future.
With a little bit of curiosity and initiative, anyone can expose him or herself to much of the aggregate knowledge of the world and start building an information base or a useful skill set through Wikipedia. I know I did!