Why Generation Z is not Generation Wiki
(possible tagline): Being a post-millennial on Wikipedia led me to some...interesting conclusions
Commissaress is a 14-year-old, European girl and is new to Wikipedia . She mostly translates French, German and Serbian/Croatian articles into English, contributes to social science-related WikiProjects and cleans up.
Anyone who can recall their experiences of exam season at high school (and if you can’t, I envy you) will know how difficult it is to snatch a couple of hours to do something which does not involve revising the quadratic formula and French verb conjugations. Recently, this problem became so acute for me that I found myself sacrificing my, ahem, totally jam-packed social life to translate a few extra sentences on Wikipedia during lunch break. While I was hammering frantically away at the keyboard, attempting to glance down a list of alkali metal compounds I had to learn for homework at the same time, the friend whom I had dragged to the library to make myself look like less of a loner asked me what I was doing.
“Just this translation on Wikipedia,” I replied.
“What, like a new article on Wikipedia?!”
“I didn’t know you could do that.”
Needless to say, I was pretty miffed. Not just because I abhor the use of the generic “you” pronoun (bring back “one”!). My friend is not some sort of a Luddite; she is a human dictionary of internet slang and spends almost as much time on Tumblr as I do (which is a lot). But she had no idea that it was even possible for laypeople to create new articles on Wikipedia. I have had similar reactions from other peers who found out that I had started contributing to Wikipedia, most of whom seem to think that Wikipedia is managed by some Michelsian-style technocratic elite.
This, to me, epitomises the problem Wikipedia is facing today, with its dwindling number of editors and underrepresentation of women and minorities. The current
|2000s||This user is a Generation Z user.|
is much-touted as the most technologically aware and competent generation yet, and teenagers are almost universally assumed to be rebellious, free-thinking and hungry for “the answers” (as well as really annoying). With this in mind, editing Wikipedia should be an attractive idea to all these teenagers. It should be as trendy as bralets and K-pop. Wikipedia represents everything my generation is about: freedom of information, a sharing economy of sorts, and the use of technology to improve our knowledge and make the world a better place. And yet, to us, Wikipedia seems exclusive, elitist, distant. Even if we are aware that anyone can contribute to Wikipedia, we think that we are not qualified to because we don’t have PhDs – or, in some cases, any qualifications at all - and have no access to academic material outside of the public domain. This is a vicious circle: the more people feel as though editing Wikipedia is the preserve of a small circle of greying, white, male academics, the more it will become so.
Part of this is not the fault of Wikipedia, but of the generally closed-off nature of specialised information and reliable sources. The first article I created on Wikipedia was a translation from German to English concerning a psychotherapist, and I was not able to add enough citations because there was next to no English-language information on the subject of the article in the public domain. This limits how valuable younger contributors who can’t access university archives or information behind paywalls can be.
But we also need to ask what Wikipedia is doing to convey this impression of elitism. First off, I’m not going to lie: starting a Wikipedia account is pretty scary. The length of all the various welcome tutorials, the number of rules governing almost everything and the sheer feeling of “where do I start?” were overwhelming at first, especially for someone who is not an “expert” in any particular field. I would have been scared off by all this if I had not been so enthusiastic about contributing. There has been an effort to reduce the scare factor, but perhaps more could be done: a more condensed welcome page to which everyone is automatically redirected, for instance, or a feature like SuggestBot which can give new users an idea of somewhere to start. There was also a proposal recently at the Village pump to create a coffee lounge-esque section on the site, which would help to make Wikipedia feel more casual and less daunting. In fact, I think an initiative similar to
would be welcome, if it is better-managed than the last attempt.
However, there is still the issue of not enough people outside a certain demographic being aware that Wikipedia can be edited or wanting to participate. It might help if Wikipedia were to get more involved in educational institutions (Wikipedia student assignments are a good idea) and if teachers were less disparaging towards it and recognised the educational value of editing. But there are also social factors at work here. It could be said that Generation Z is the generation of “not good enough.” Now that the internet is such a huge part of teenagers’ lives, we have even more reasons to be insecure: why should we feel qualified to do anything when we are bombarded 24/7 with people who are ostensibly smarter than us and prettier than us and have better lives than ours? Additionally, education still, for the most part, reinforces the idea that young people do not know enough and are not capable enough. Inclusion and free sharing of knowledge are noble and attrative ideals – but unfortunately for my generation, and Wikipedia, they are being stamped on as we speak.