The digital encyclopedia is petitioning the United Nations for recognition as a world heritage site
Boasting more than 18 million entries in 279 languages, Wikipedia is arguably the largest store of human knowledge in the history of mankind. In its first decade, the digital encyclopedia has done more to challenge the way we think about the relationship between knowledge and the Internet than virtually any other website. But is this ubiquitous tree of knowledge as culturally sacred as the pyramids of Giza, the archaeological site of Troy, or the Native American mound cities of Cahokia?
Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, thinks so. Spurred on by a German chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, the digital encyclopedia will launch a petition this week to have the website listed on the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's world heritage lists. If accepted, Wikipedia would be afforded the international protection and preservation afforded to man made monuments and natural wonders.
The first digital entity to vie for recognition as cultural treasure, Wikipedia argues that the site meets the first and foremost of UNESCO's criteria: "to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius. "
"'What if everyone was given free access to the sum of all human knowledge?' Within the last 10 years, this seemingly utopian idea has resulted in nothing less than the largest collection of human knowledge ever created," argues the team at Wikipedia 10, a page dedicated to celebrating the first decade of the site. "Independent, unrestrictedly accessible, and non-commercial. This achievement made Wikipedia a pioneer of cultural change because Wikipedia transferred the tradition of knowledge exchange into the new, digital age. Thus creating a unique place of knowledge exchange in the history of civilization."
The speed, sophistication, and novelty of Wikipedia may hurt the website's chances. The New York Times' Kevin O'Brien reports that the website will likely face skepticism:
"Heritage professionals tend to be rather conservative types, or they wouldn't choose this kind of occupation," said Britta Rudolff, a heritage consultant who teaches on the subject at the Brandenburg University of Technology in Cottbus, Germany. "They like to play with the past, and something only a decade old is going to face challenges."
[Wikipedia] will have to negotiate a complicated approval process and overcome the skeptical regard of Unesco and heritage consultants to be considered for recognition. Susan Williams, the head of external media relations at Unesco in Paris, said a bid by a digital entity like Wikipedia would be unprecedented.
"Anyone can apply," said Ms. Williams, who added that she was not aware of Wikipedia's plans. "But it may have difficulty fulfilling the criteria." One of the criteria for inclusion, she said, is that the culture or practice be endangered.
UNESCO has always encouraged the recognition of technological advancements as "an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design." Wikipedia is certainly some kind of "space" for the advancement of human intelligence, if it is any kind of space at all. And that might be the issue.
Arguably, the inclusion of Wikipedia as the symbol of a given epistemological epoch is as intuitive as the inclusion of Alexander the Great's library at Alexandria, hub of knowledge for the ancient world. But UNESCO's world heritage is usually reserved for monuments to cultures past or stunning works of natural beauty (like the Alexandria library's stunning architecture and collection of ancient tomes.) Do Wikipedia's vast server farms qualify as physical manifestations of Wikipedia's digital contents, or will Wikipedia as a website find itself relegated to the lesser-known Intangible Cultural Heritage List, which includes endangered traditions and practices divorced from a particular physical locale?
The tough to resolve debate over Wikipedia's placeness may obscure the more immediate consequence of any kind of UNESCO membership. The primary mission and goals of UNESCO are to reduce poverty, encourage sustainable development, and promote intercultural dialogue: within this mission, the UN identifies world heritage sites significant in humanity's cultural history that require international cooperation and attention in their preservation and protection. The designation isn't merely ceremonial; it has pragmatic, legal purpose. While home states exercise sovereignty and jurisdiction over heritage sites, UNESCO actively provides material assistance in coordination with member states and NGOs, as outlined in the UNESCO's 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
Is Wikipedia a knowledge store worthy of UNESCO's recognition? Perhaps. But does the Wikimedia Foundation really need UN resources to polish its servers and build "an appreciation for Wikipedians" and "higher attention for Wikipedia in the public," as outlined on Wikipedia 10? Probably not. The Wikimedia Foundation, which supports Wikipedia and other wiki projects, has a fairly robust and dedicated fundraising operation, and the foundation raised more than $21 million from November 2010 to January 2011 in the service of new initiatives. UNESCO would be better suited to focus its resources on heritage sites facing more immediate challenges.
This wasn’t terribly surprising. When Streep was asked, last year, in the course of promoting her extremely feminist film Suffragette, whether she is herself a feminist, the actor replied that, no, she isn’t. Instead: “I am a humanist,” she said. “I am for nice, easy balance.”
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
Across China, where new developments are keeping pace with the rapidly growing economy, reports continue to surface so-called "nail houses."
Across China, where new developments are keeping pace with the rapidly growing economy, reports continue to surface of so-called "nail houses." These properties, standing alone amid the ruins of other buildings, belong to owners who have stood their ground and resisted demolition. Defiant property owners say the compensation being offered is too low. Some of them have remained in their homes for years as their court cases drag on and new construction continues all around them. A few homeowners have won their fights, but most have lost. Meanwhile, these nail houses have become powerful symbols of resistance against the world's fastest-growing major economy.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
Most people know how to help someone with a cut or a scrape. But what about a panic attack?
Here’s a thought experiment: You’re walking down the street with a friend when your companion falls and gashes her leg on the concrete. It’s bleeding; she’s in pain. It’s clear she’s going to need stitches. What do you do?
This one isn’t exactly a head-scratcher. You'd probably attempt to offer some sort of first-aid assistance until the bleeding stopped, or until she could get to medical help. Maybe you happen to have a Band-Aid on you, or a tissue to help her clean the wound, or a water bottle she can use to rinse it off. Maybe you pick her up and help her hobble towards transportation, or take her where she needs to go.
Here’s a harder one: What if, instead of an injured leg, that same friend has a panic attack?
The bureau successfully played the long game in both cases.
The story of law enforcement in the Oregon standoff is one of patience.
On the most obvious level, that was reflected in the 41 days that armed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. It took 25 days before the FBI and state police moved to arrest several leaders of the occupation and to barricade the refuge. It took another 15 days before the last of the final occupiers walked out, Thursday morning Oregon time.
Each of those cases involved patience as well: Officers massed on Highway 395 didn’t shoot LaVoy Finicum when he tried to ram past a barricade, nearly striking an FBI agent, though when he reached for a gun in his pocket they finally fired. Meanwhile, despite increasingly hysterical behavior from David Fry, the final occupier, officers waited him out until he emerged peacefully.
How teachers and parents can identify and cultivate children who think creatively and unconventionally
In his new book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, the writer, Wharton professor, and erstwhile magician Adam Grant explores the circumstances that give rise to truly original thinkers. Through stories of business “originals” such as the Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio, and the Warby Parker co-founder Neil Blumenthal, he explains how unorthodox thinking can result in unprecedented success or—if shaped by groupthink or myopic vision—miserable failure.
Grant is a gifted educator himself, and, as Wharton’s top rated teacher for the past four years, knows a little something about identifying and cultivating original thinking in his students. I asked Grant about the role teachers play in educating original children, and how teachers and parents alike can protect what’s special in these original children—traits that have the potential to disrupt lesson plans today, but, if nurtured and protected, may just change the world tomorrow. Below is a lightly edited and condensed version of our conversation.