Wednesday, February 3, 2010


The thing about the old school Encyclopedia Britannica,  as unwieldy, monolithic, exclusionary, and “biased” as it was, is that is was (is?) stable, erudite, abiding, and consistent. Which is a good thing –until it isn’t. If I looked up Roxbury, MA in my imaginary old school EB a year ago and then looked it up again today (assuming that the EB contained an entry for Roxbury, MA which it may not have done but that’s another rant) the entry would have remained the same. Even an updated edition would have most likely have included a nominally edited entry.

Not so in the ever-shifting, dependent on who's-taking-the time-to-write-it-today world of The Web, or, more specifically, Wikipedia. A year ago, the entry in Wikipedia under Roxbury, MA included the casual observation of "generally acknowledged to be the most dangerous part of Boston" - which statement made me so mad I almost opened a Wiki account so I could edit the stupid piece. "Generally acknowledged"??! By whom? And on what shoddy believe-everything-you-read-in-the-papers basis?!

Today, however, the entry is shiny, happy and gleaming with lots of good history but no mention of danger, just the dewy-eyed promise of (ugh!) gentrification in the Fort Hill section of Roxbury, which statement I find just as offensive as the one of the other extreme. Here's a direct quote:

"The Fort Hill section experienced significant gentrification when college students (many from Northeastern University and Wentworth Institute of Technology), artists, and young professionals moved into the area in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the present day, there is much commercial and residential redevelopment."

Since when do college students and artists qualify as gentry? Artists live in areas that are not gentrified or upscale, because as the lowest income earning group of all educated people, they can't afford to live in gentrified areas. And neither, might I suggest, can most students.

Commercial development? Some of us are begging for it and others prefer to keep this nook sleepy but the only commercial development here are the airy sandcastles in the Wikipedia writer's dreams.

(No, I don't want to open a Wiki account and edit it. I'd rather use it as fodder).

And so here we run into the biggest problem of The Web: any nincompoop can write any unsubstantiated drivel she likes and many people will not only read it. They'll believe it without investigation, without corroboration, without thinking. Oh, wait. That's not The Web: that's people.

1 comment:

  1. I find the same thing trying to reference a "fact" about Dorchester on Wikipedia from a month before. It doesn't exist anymore. It's not a reference.

    Of course, sloppy standards and hucksterism are both web and human natures. Living in a place first hand is the only way to get the facts and even that is subjective.

    Keep up the good work.