Friday, December 16, 2005

"We aren't what you would call...human."

(Listening to: Achtung Baby, U2)

Anyone else remember the end of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty? During one of the several feature-length cutscenes near the conclusion, the evil Patriots (or a computer virus) (or a crazy AI) (or aliens) (or whatever) are explaining to you why they're doing what they're doing -- unleashing a program called GW onto the internet. It will allow them to censor information all across the world. Not to prevent information harmful to them from getting to the public, no -- to prevent useless information from enduring in the public mind.

See, back in the old days, when humans depended on actual tangible things for record-keeping, like paper or tapes or even (gasp) their memories, the useless information -- like in-depth dissertations on the fan-written backgrounds of Shakespeare characters -- would naturally be lost over time, while the important stuff -- the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, Shakespeare's actual plays -- would naturally perservere. Sort of an informational survival of the fittest.

But now, as GW (robots? talking plants?) explains to you, with the proliferation of the internet, information just stays there. There's no natural process, no sorting of the needed from the pointless. Everything is given equal weight, and with no one there to tell us what's important and what's not, humanity will become bogged down by the sheer bulk of our culture's useless knowledge.

Does it sound to anyone else that GW is talking about...Wikipedia?

Now, I've been thinking about this for awhile, so it's much to my dismay that today's Penny Arcade concerns this very topic and now it looks like I'm copying them. But whatever.

Wikipedia, to me, represents simultaneously the best and worst of the potential of the internet. The best, because it's a communal gathering of information, which is what the internet is supposed to be. But the worst, because it seems all people have to share is Star Wars.

But is that the fault of Wikipedia? If I set up a place where people can have serious discussions about whatever they like, and they all decide they want to play Heads Up, Seven-Up, that's not my fault. And it wouldn't be right of me to force them to do something else.

And after all -- GW (the reincarnated souls of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? Cylons?) is the villain of MGS2. You have to stop him (them?) (it?) before the program can be activated. The conclusion is that humans are smart enough to separate information for themselves. We don't need GW or anyone else to do it for us. And then you chop Solidus Snake in half with a sword.

I agree with the game's conclusion.

In theory.

But considering how much time I spend on Wikipedia...

...maybe GW is right.

Damn those aliens.

Or computer programs.

Or whatever.

It's a confusing game.

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