“Sir, I found it on Google. So I thought that it must be right.” Ankit said, confidently. “And Sir, it was on the first page of Google.” He further justified himself.
This was not the first time, Prof. Agarwal, history teacher at an architecture institute, was witnessing his students advocating Google. The biggest challenge to his job (if there was any) was, Google, he thought. Prof. Agarwal was in his mid fifties and he was teaching history of architecture for more than two decades now. He was well read, his voice was firm and was very articulate. When he talked, all others had only one job, and that was to listen to him.
“Hmm..” Prof. Agarwal reacted with his left hand on chin and eyes deep into the report which Ankit had written (copied and pasted would be better).
“Is Google the source or the website from where you have copied this, is the source?” Asked Prof. Agarwal.
“The website, of course. I mean Wikipedia. But Wikipedia is also very popular and many refer to it.” Ankit defended his dependence on Wikipedia and explained how Wikipedia was best and reliable source for any authentic information. “I just searched it on Google..” He added.
“That is fine. I too use Wikipedia as a reference, may be not as much as you.” Prof Agarwal said.
“May I ask you something?” Prof. Agarwal closed the report without reading it further, took his glasses off, and turned towards Ankit.
“Yes!” Ankit had no choice, his reply had both, an answer and a question.
“Who has written Wikipedia? Or who writes on Wikipedia? Any Idea?” Three questions, non stop, were thrown at now confused Ankit.
“Why do you think all the information on Wikipedia is right and authentic?” This was the fourth one, out of syllabus, with no options. Ankit was more confused with the kind of questions than the questions itself.
“WTF, It is better that I fail, I will attempt it next year…” Ankit thought, finding himself in some kind of trap.
“I think many authors who specialise in some subjects or their fields write on Wikipedia.” Ankit wasn’t sure, but he had to reply because, like many of us he also did not believe in saying, “I don’t know.”
“You are partially right, Ankit.” Replied Prof. Agarwal. Ankit felt little relief here, as if he had scored the minimum marks for passing and he had regained his right to live.
“One who writes is an author, obviously. But, not necessarily an expert or a specialist always.” Continued Prof. Agarwal. “So, neither you and nor I can be sure, if Wikipedia always has the correct information. We blindly trust Wikipedia, may be because most of the time when you “Google” about something, Wikipedia is seen as the first or second result.” Prof. Agarwal put a lot of emphasis on the word “Google” and gestured with his hands as if drawing inverted commas in the air.
“Do you know Ankit, even you can write on Wikipedia?” Fifth question, supposedly easy to answer, as there were only two options, yes, or no. But, Ankit had something different here, which did not surprise Prof. Agarwal,
“Me?” Replied Ankit.
“Yes, You. Even you can write on Wikipedia. And why only you, even he can write.” Prof. Agarwal pointed at the peon who was then busy cleaning some chairs in staff room. The peon suddenly got conscious and stood almost frozen, looking at Prof. Agarwal and Ankit with a question mark on his face, thinking about his wife, three children and guessing what kind of job he will find next.
Prof. Agarwal gestured at the peon asking him to ignore and continue with what he was doing. At this point Prof. Agarwal was sounding more like a technology person than a history teacher. And Ankit stood astonished there. He couldn’t digest the fact that anybody and everybody could write on Wikipedia, and specially that peon thing.
“The problem is, on Wikipedia we often ignore that small “Edit” link on the right of the content, which itself suggests that it (content) is open to us for editing.” Prof. continued looking at Ankit. Ankit was more confused. Why was the Prof. talking Technology rather than History, which was his subject? By this time even the peon had decided to leave the room along with the chairs.
“But, it is not that easy.” Prof. said after a brief pause. “It is not easy to write, when you have not read enough. And that is the problem with most of us. Most of the time we think that whatever is written or printed, is always right and authentic. This is a fallout of our education system where we are taught to blindly trust the text books. We memorise every word printed in the text books and regurgitate the same along with printing mistakes in our answer sheets.” The Prof. had started sounding angry and irritated. He looked for the peon who had by now left the room in fear, so he went near the water cooler to get some water for himself.
“Many people contribute on Wikipedia. And as said, even you can contribute. How do you ensure that the information is authentic?” Prof. continued after returning to his chair, with a glass of water in hand.
“And just because it appeared on first page of Google search results, it does not make it authentic, my dear. And the information that goes on, may be third, fourth and even seventeenth page may not be unauthentic. Who knows?” Prof. was obviously angry and this moment and Ankit had no other option but to agree. Agree with whatever Prof. was saying, even if it wasn’t on “Google”.
Ankit had shut his mind and was just pretending to listen. He was more worried about whether he would clear this subject or not. Prof. realised it but ignored and continued…
“The problem is we have stopped asking questions. We do not ask questions, because we have answers all over, all around us. TV has answers, newspaper has answers, Wikipedia has answers, Google has answers.. and we even have answers to the questions which are not asked. But where the hell are questions?” Prof. was known for choosing his words carefully and giving appropriate emphasis wherever needed. Ankit didn’t even try to understand what the Professor was saying. His arms which were folded on his chest till now went behind his butt and he looked down. He had given up any hopes of passing now. He wanted to leave the room, at that very moment. But he could not.
This “lecture” came as a shock to Ankit, as before this, he had only heard Prof. talking about civilizations, monuments, rulers and wars. He had never heard him talking about Google and Wikipedia, that too with so much of confidence.
Prof. continued after a small pause, looking at the report while Ankit stood praying there for his life.
“I do not have any issues, about where you copy the matter from. But, I certainly don’t like it when you do it blindly, forget to give references or mention the sources.” Prof. looked at his wrist watch, looked at Ankit and said..
“And by the way…” Ankit with some relief, looked into professor’s eyes..”The text that you have put in your report was written by me on Wikipedia..” Ankit’s face was worth seeing and now he would prefer death rather than clearing the subject, he thought.
“It’s okay, I wrote it on Wikipedia because I wanted it to share with entire world and it is meant to be copied and referred to. But, the way it is being copied is not acceptable, for sure.” Prof. concluded and signalled Ankit to take his report and leave.
Ankit’s was almost shivering when he tried to pick up his report from table. He did not even look at the Professor and started walking towards the door. He heard..
“When we meet next we will talk about why some websites like Wikipedia make it to Google’s first page and why some don’t.” Prof. Agarwal had a mild smile on his face and he again walked towards the water cooler for another glass of water. “Now send the next student.” He asked Ankit.
Ankit walked towards the exit blindly, he was not able to think of anything. As soon as he reached the door, his friends waiting for their turn outside pulled him and asked how it went.
Ankit was still in shock, he closed his eyes tightly and opened after some ten seconds, took a deep breath, looked at his friends and said…
“Maa kasam, jindagi mein kabhi Google aur Wikipedia se copy nahin karoonga. Aur agar tumne kiya hai toh andar mat jaana….bol deta hoon..” (I swear, I will never ever copy from Google and Wikipedia again in my life, and if you people have done so, please do not go inside..I am telling you..)”
Story originally published in Exclaim!, Annual Magazine of IDEA, Nashik.