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Monday 24 January 2011

Wikipedia Prophecy (1909)

Although science fiction ostensibly deals with the future, it's extremely rare to come across genuinely prophetic visions in SF. One that comes close, however, is "The Machine Stops" -- a short story by E.M. Forster originally published in 1909. Whatever its original intention, the story can be read today as an amusing satire on the World Wide Web, and on social networking sites such as Facebook in particular. However, my favorite bit is aimed more at Wikipedia with its anally constricting policies of  "No original research", "Neutral Point of View", "Wikipedia is a mainstream encyclopedia" and "Wikipedia is a tertiary source".

"Beware of firsthand ideas!" exclaimed one of the most advanced of them [you can take 'them' to be Wikipedia admins, if you like]. "Firsthand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by love and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element -- direct observation. Do not learn anything about this subject of mine -- the French Revolution. Learn instead what I think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch thought Ho-Yung thought Chi-Bo-Sing thought Lafcadio Hearn thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution... Your descendants will be even in a better position than you, for they will learn what you think I think, and yet another intermediate will be added to the chain. And in time" -- his voice rose -- "there will come a generation that has got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colorless, a generation 'seraphically free from taint of personality', which will see the French Revolution not as it happened, nor as they would like it to have happened, but as it would have happened, had it taken place in the days of the Machine."

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