Sunday, December 10, 2006

 

Remembering Wayne

I was reminded this morning of Wayne Whitney, a person who once posted to alt.religion.scientology during the time I was a regular there. In those days when Usenet was far more popular than it is now, that medium was a place of flame wars, of people more interested in showing off their knowledge and debating skills -- & in some ways, alt.religion.scientology was the roughest battlefield of Usenet. Wayne clearly did not fit the profile of a verbal combatant: he wrote simply of his weekly pickets of the local Scientology offices in an unpretentious style.

Then one day, he apologetically posted about the death of his cat Gooby. There was a response of support and warmth, but none of us knew at the time that Wayne also had a fatal illness, one that forced him to cease his postings a few months later, then took his life. It was then that we learned that alt.religion.scientology was a major part of his support network. And yet, thinking back to that time, I feel that I had such a marginal effect on him, and wish that I had done more.

The Internet can be an unwelcoming place. And with its inherent competition and conflict, Wikipedia can be an unfriendly place. Many people come to Wikipedia to show off their knowledge, or to promote their beliefs; some manage to do it in ways that actually improve the content of Wikipedia, and despite their original intentions become valuable members of the community. But all the same, it is easy to simply make edits and never interact with the rest of the contributors. Or to actively act with hostility in order to promote one's opinion in every dispute. Doing either means that one misses out on the rewards of contact with people who share a love for learning and knowledge.

That Wikipedia can be an unfriendly place leads some contributors to adopting self-defeating or bizarre strategies. Wikipedia is simply a place where people interact; and some people behave in a more friendly manner more often than others.

Geoff

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