I use Wikipedia a lot, and now and then they ask me for money. Now and then I give them money.
"What?" you say. "You fool! It's a mess, that thing, riddled with inaccuracies, biased, completely unreliable."
Well, so am I, so it's a good fit.
Actually, it's quite useful for things that are not controversial. You might ask — indeed, you might beg to know — which things are not controversial these days. You tell someone you stubbed your toe on a rock, and they might say, "Really? Sure it wasn't a rock crystal? Did you check? Are you a quartz-denier?"
So what's safe and dependable on Wikipedia? Entries on "quartz," for example. Entries on "people hit in the head by a rock who completely deserved it" might be scant, but useful. The history pages are good, because there are hordes of anal-retentive history enthusiasts who hover over them, correcting errors, footnoting controversies and so on. We all can agree that William the Conqueror existed, and Wikipedia has an exhaustive entry with many fascinating details. This one I found remarkable:
"William's reign has caused historical controversy since before his death. William of Poitiers wrote glowingly of William's reign and its benefits, but the obituary notice for William in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle condemns William in harsh terms."
It sounds like a newspaper, doesn't it? In the 12th century. Wonder how that worked.
"Dear, has the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle come yet?"
"I put it by your chair."
"Ah, there it is. Well, let's see what's in the paper today. I can't believe they're still running Dagwoode, that was old when I was a whelp. Ah, here it is, obituaries. Oh, no! Bill died!"
"Bill. Bill Conqueror."
"Do we know the Conquerors?"
"He's the King of England. Or was. Ach, now it's going to be nothing but war. Well, let's go to the sports page and see if the Vikings lost again."
Anyway. I use Wikipedia a lot, and I am always impressed by its astonishing depth and insanely narrow focus. I have given them money, and that prompted a recent e-mail that asked for something a bit startling.
They want me to put them in my will. The e-mail even included a link to a site where you could write your will online.
It makes you think of those will-reading scenes from old movies. An elderly person of means passes, and the will is read in the study of his baronial home. Present: The feckless son, the haughty spoiled daughter, a faithful servant or two, the scheming brother, and perhaps an amateur detective who wanted to get a head-start on the investigation into the inevitable murder.
The person reading the will reads the sound-mind-and-body part, then says, "To my son, Arthur, who has been kicked out of every school in the country for gambling, including the Royal Academy of Gambling, I leave one pound." (Arthur snarls and hunches sullenly in his chair.)
"To my daughter Ginny, who has the morals of a weasel and the faithfulness of a wet postage stamp, I leave one pound, with the provision that she lend it to my son Arthur, so they have one more thing to argue about." (Ginny sneers and blows a smoke ring.)
"To my faithful servants, I leave the sum of 100 pounds each." (Servants smile, bow their heads and murmur, "Bless his soul.")
"The rest of my estate in the amount of 47 million pounds, I leave to Wikipedia."
Arthur stands and swears that this will not stand, he'll take it to court! Ginny agrees! The next day, Arthur is found dead in the garden. The famous Wikipedia Murder is never solved because the detective started researching poisons, ended up clicking on a link about the Borgias and went down a rabbit hole of Italian political history for the rest of the afternoon.
That said, it's tempting to leave a few bucks to a useful institution. But there would be conditions. I would love to win a huge lottery prize and give them $50 million, with the condition that they edit every page to switch from one space after a period to two. I know it's archaic, but it's my personal preference.
Or I could demand that they use my bequest to make a printed copy of Wikipedia, just in case. What if something happened, somewhere, and Wikipedia was lost? One guy doing basic server maintenance types RMDIR /Q/S instead of RMDIR /Q/T and, shazam, it's gone. "Oops. Did the digital equivalent of burning the Library of Alexandria, my bad."
Perhaps the kindest thing one could do would be to leave them money and specify that they hire someone to make small, inconsequential changes to pages like "Depression-Era Chewing Gum" and "Discontinued Dental Floss Brands" so the one guy who feels as if the entire responsibility for the page's accuracy has something to do.
"What? No, Popzalot Chicle was not made in Brodgeport. It was made in Bridgeport! Now I know how Batman felt when he saw his sign in the clouds."
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