I remember when I first discovered Wikipedia. I must have been about seven or eight years old - it was when the new library/IT centre at my primary school was built, and all of a sudden there was a room in which everyone could have their own computer; before that only about twelve of the best year sevens would ever have access to a computer. I remember I was doing a project of sorts - back in the good old days when 'project' meant 'bug your mum to buy a really big piece of paper and stick often nonsensical blocks of text and pictures on it'. And Wikipedia kept popping up!
So I fell in love with Wikipedia.
A lot of people don't know this - probably because it's not the sort of dirty laundry you would like to air, even in a 'nerd school' - but I used to edit Wikipedia; I still do, from time to time, if there's something really bugging me. Mostly because I was a very weird kid, but also because that was the start of my devotion to the pursuit of knowledge. An even nerdier pastime was editing 'Wikis' - fan databases - if you go on the Anakin Skywalker page of Wookieepedia a few small but substantial portions of the page was written by me. This is why I don't judge people who play computer games.
Sigh. I'm never going to get married now.
Anyway. Wikipedia. I love Wikipedia. Sure, there are errors and random bits and etc, but if you've ever been part of the Wikipedia editing community you'll know that it's all heavily monitered, and if you're a loony bin who likes vandalising Wikipedia you won't be able to indulge that for long; I actually got banned from being a registered contributor because I slacked off a bit. The point I'm trying to make is that the people who edit Wikipedia probably don't have degrees, or research experience, or whatever. But they're driven by the love of learning, the devotion to knowledge. And they're the best editors in the world.
The best part about Wikipedia is that it's unpretentious. I've read so many academic books and all I want to do is track down the author and kick them in the butt; they're so snobbish and up themselves and are the kind of person who'll use extremely long and complicated words that stick out like a sore phalanx. Wikipedia is simple, to the point. It's as detailed as it needs to be.
Sir Ken Robinson made the very true point that teenagers don't wear watches anymore; they don't need to. I don't wear a watch - I have one, I just never wear it because it's not important enough for me to remember to wear it; even though my phone is nearly always dead and nearly never have it on me, and my iPod decided to go on strike. But one particular teenager who does wear a watch doesn't think too much of my love affair with Wikipedia, and, apparently, I should do all my research with 'books'. What is this, 1896?
Pfft. I told you I'm a modern child. Maybe this is the reason why I always thought he was so much older than me. that and the fact he's a head taller than I am. Well...most people are.
I understand, though, that Wikipedia has its place. Now I've reached a point in my academic career where it isn't academically P.C. to quote or cite Wikipedia, and I don't - not directly, anyway - and I understand why. As much as I vouch for the accuracy and reliability of Wikipedia, I know it's not the most appropriate addition to a bibliography. But it's a good starting point. It's good if someone mentions something unfamiliar and you're dying to get clued up. It's good if your textbooks are driving you insane and you just need a straight answer.
One thing I'm always weary of is academic snobbery. Knowledge is knowledge, regardless of where you learn it from. The pursuit of knowledge is diverse and, sometimes, unorthodox. Which is a rather pretentious way of saying that I love Wikipedia.