Is contributing visually a provocation on Wikipedia’s ideology?

DRAFT a later version will be contributed to Wikipedia

Unknown Knowns, Markers on Paper

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek refers to these “unknown knowns” as the Freudian unconscious, “the knowledge which does not know itself”. These are the ‘disavowed beliefs and suppositions we are not even aware of adhering to ourselves’. The unknown knowns are a strong engine of what drives Ideology.

Some say the only way to discover the unknown knowns is through critique. Examining Wikipedia’s readiness for visual contribution have required us to also critique its collaborative model. And we think we might have stumbled upon one of its unknown knowns.

In Wikipedia, it is the un-implied promise of text. It can be read and written equally. The granular essence of the character provides the backbone for the varied ladder of contribution available on Wikipedia. Anything from fixing a typo to writing multiple series of articles is allowed by the Read/Write essence of the text – if I can read it I can also write it. And since the wiki interface allows it, I can also edit it.

Images break that symmetry. An image can be viewed by everyone, but cannot be equally edited. Image making and editing skills are rare and define an invisible border of exclusivity. You can view the image but you (probably) cannot edit it. Open licensing only clears the legal barrier but does not actually address the skills and the collaboration model challenges.

In a way, this spells the conflict of Read/Write vs. Read/Only cultures in which visual contribution to Wikipedia goes directly against its collaborative ideology.

* Unknown Knowns is also the first Wikipedia article we initiated in the process of this project. We hope more of you can help us make it better.

** You might want to dive deeper into Žižek’s fascinating arguments about unkown knowns in this lecture video (we linked directly to the relevant moment):

Unknown knowns are the things we don't know that we know. The coining of the term is attributed to Slovenian Philosopher Slavoj Žižek and it refers to the unconscious beliefs and prejudices that determine how we perceive reality and intervene in it. It is the Freudian unconscious, the “knowledge which doesn’t know itself,” as Lacan used to say.[1]
Mar 19th, 2011

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