On my tenth birthday in January 1971 my parents gave me a set of the 1970 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia. I’m sure my parents paid hundreds of dollars for the set. It did not include man landing on the moon, which had happened in 1969, but they included a glossy magazine piece which included updates like that. I have a couple of the annual year books as well. I still have the encyclopedia because they look great on the shelf in the den. Occasionally I glance at them to see just how much the world has changed.
A few years ago we bought a copy of Microsoft Encarta for our sons. It probably cost us about $100. It has web links to updated information, but it wasn’t always exactly current. The kids didn’t use it very much, preferring to use a then new service called Google.
Today I went to Wikipedia to see what it had to say about the tsunami, four days after the event. I found a section on the Indian Ocean Earthquake. I found detailed and very current information about the quake, damage and casualties by country, ways to donate and help, as well as the overwhelming humanitarian response. This information was created and edited by anyone who was interested in sharing their knowledge and helping to inform others. This accurate and timely information was provided at no cost to me, though I am free to donate to the cause.
Wikipedia and the internet have provided a mechanism to allow me, my family, and everyone else to be much better informed about the world at large – right when we need to be.