What Thinking Sounds Like

You can now both watch and listen to Wikipedia being edited in real time. I don’t know how useful this, but it is fascinating. Here is a picture and a description (for the full effect, however, visit listen.hatnote.com.

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Bells indicate additions and string plucks indicate subtractions. Pitch changes according to the size of the edit; the larger the edit, the deeper the note. Green circles show edits from unregistered contributors, and purple circles mark edits performed by automated bots.

Wikipedia is one of the great unsung advances of the age. It makes no money, yet is the 7th most visited website on the Internet (after Google, Facebook, YouTube, Baidu, Yahoo! and Amazon). It is a container of everything imaginable, with over five million articles and 800,000,000 edits. It isn’t perfect – in fact it is often rather bad and occasionally just plain awful – but its imperfection is a reminder of the spit-and-a-prayer shanty-town resourcefulness which the Internet once was, before those other big corporations listed above bought up all the real estate.

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To watch and listen to Wikipedia is especially pleasing because to work with Wikipedia is for the most part to edit. Few people compose new pages; many people edit the pages which already exist.

Editing is a form of thinking in its own right, a way of bringing out structure, sharpening key detail, giving ideas form. Steve Jobs, according to Malcolm Gladwell, was more editor than composer. And Jony Ive, chief designer has said that you had to give Jobs an idea before he could do anything, or even think anything. But give him the right idea, and he was unstoppable.

In the case of Wikipedia, the editors might not be Jobs-level geniuses, but the collective wit, not to mention faith, of the contributors is no less impressive.

 

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