Wikipedia and the Hitchhiker’s Guide

I often to listen to Douglas Adams audiobooks when I’m going to sleep.  It’s a habit that my wife got me in to, because she’s been doing it since she was a little girl, and now I find that it’s much easier to sleep if I put it on.  Last night, I was listening to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when it suddenly struck me that the actual Guide is a brilliant foreshadowing of Wikipedia.  It’s more or less user-generated, contains a lot of errors, and is outcompeting its rival, the Encylopedia Galactica.

Feeling like I’d stumbled onto something cool, I was going to do a full post on this today, but my “uh-oh” detectors went off before I got too far into it, and I did a quick google search.  Sure enough, Paul Boutin at Slate covered this ground three years ago:

It’s too bad Douglas Adams wasn’t able to see his vision brought to life. I don’t mean the so-so movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’m talking about Wikipedia, the Web’s own don’t-panic guide to everything.

The parallels between The Hitchhiker’s Guide (as found in Adams’ original BBC radio series and novels) and Wikipedia are so striking, it’s a wonder that the author’s rabid fans don’t think he invented time travel. Since its editor was perennially out to lunch, the Guide was amended “by any passing stranger who happened to wander into the empty offices on an afternoon and saw something worth doing.” This anonymous group effort ends up outselling Encyclopedia Galactica even though “it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate.”

The article is a tiny bit dated already, but it’s still a good read for those of us who are hard-core Douglas Adams fans.

And while we’re on the subject of my favourite British fiction authors, you may have heard that Terry Pratchett was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s a while ago;  he donated half a million pounds (about $1 million US dollars) to Alzheimer’s research, and there’s a grass-roots movement called “Match it for Pratchett” that seeks to match those funds.  You can donate there, or go to Pratchett’s website for more information.


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