05 July 2011

Why Wikipedia Should Be Blocked After 9.30pm

I have come to a conclusion.
There should be a plugin built into every web browser on the market that blocks all access to Wikipedia after 9.30pm local time.
It's not that I'm addicted to Wikipedia. If I have a question about something, I usually go to the library and borrow a half-dozen books on the topic. If I need something right this minute I'll ask a friend who I think is likely to know the answer. Rarely do I turn to Google and by extension, Wikipedia.
However, on the rare occasion I do Google something, I tend to end up on Wikipedia, because it's the first link on the page and it generally doesn't have viruses that screw up people's computers (I'm a bit paranoid that way about Google searching).
And let's face it, it is informative... too informative. I looked up Rich Mullins once and I learned everything I could possibly have ever wanted to know and then some about microcassettes, analog generation loss, and Space Cadet Pinball for Windows 98 (plus, of course, Rich Mullins).
And that's the whole problem. If they didn't link to other interesting and informative Wikipedia pages, I wouldn't be writing this post. It wouldn't eat five irretrievable hours of my life at a time.
And I wouldn't end up terrifying the living daylights out of myself for a few days.

Have you ever looked up the Wikipedia page for Elvis Presley?
I swear you could print it out on regular paper 8.5 inches wide and lay it across Canada and it would reach from Vancouver at least to Winnipeg. It's insanely long. I'm a fast reader (the fastest I know), and it took me and hour and a half to read it. An hour and a half! And I didn't even read it all... I skimmed quite a bit (mostly the bits about his, ahem, very private life).
A quick subpoint here -- there should seriously be an adult content warning label on that page. Mostly it talked about his songs and movies and maybe a bit about his family life (especially in the earlier years), but I saw -- even though I started skimming -- far more about his, er... intimate life than anybody needs to know. I know the Internet is kind of a free-for-all, but seriously, what if it was your eight-year-old doing a report on Elvis and decided to look at the Wikipedia page? Have a little consideration here, people. No, a warning label is not going to prevent you (or your child) from continuing to read it anyway, but at least then you have a heads-up and if you've trained your kid well they'll at least come ask you if they should continue reading.

Back to Elvis.
I don't even know what possessed me to start reading the Elvis Presley Wikipedia page at eleven pm, knowing the chain reaction Wikipedia lays down for you.
I had been looking for album artwork for my iTunes library and randomly decided to check out the Imperials Wikipedia page that appeared in the list. Why, I don't know -- I could ask my dad about the Imperials and he could tell me more than the Wikipedia page did. And why I opened the link to the Elvis page from there I don't really know either.
I mean, I knew all I really cared about -- singer, started his career in 1950s sometime, acted a bit, served in the US Army, died of some kind of overdose in 1977. Sure there's more than that, but I didn't really care about any of it... except for the question 'what did he actually die of?'
From laypeople (most of them aged four or younger when he died) I'd heard it was drugs, I'd heard alcohol, I'd heard he starved himself to death trying to lose weight but I'd never heard from a slightly more reputable source. And since I apparently have some kind of morbid fascination with how famous people die (especially if they die young), I decided to check it out.
I know, I know, they have that neat little box at the top of the page that links to certain segments of the article, but as the page was loading I suddenly thought, I wonder how he even got started in the first place.
So I read that part. But you know how it is -- as soon as you start reading something, anything, you have to continue; you can't just stop.
So I continued.

Finally, at about 12.30am I reached the part with a heading about the decline of his health.
Now put yourself in my place.
It's 12.30 in the morning.
You're fighting to keep from falling asleep over your keyboard.
It is completely silent save the very, very soft whirring of your laptop (city people may struggle with this one).
Aside from the computer's screen and one fluorescent bulb, it is completely dark.
You've just spent more than an hour with your (very vivid) imagination firmly locked, no distraction, in the world of Elvis or at least his fans.
And you have an irrational terror of music being garbled or messed up.
I'm not kidding about that last point. As far back as I can remember, the drone of a cassette tape in a faulty player would give me nightmares for weeks. I hated that sound -- the slow, painful, mournful death of music. I would hear a song droning like that in the daytime and then in the dead of night I would close my eyes and the song would suddenly be in my head, warped and moaning, almost melting slowly in a flame as the proverbial ghost was wrenched from its being. And I would be too terrified by the awful sound in my head to even consider seeking reassuring company in my parents' room at the other end of the dark house.
I still hate that sound.

And as you sit there in silence, only half-awake and barely aware of your surroundings as the darkness presses against the window just above your head; like the beginning of a horror show -- creepy music in your head and all -- it's as if the light takes on an eerie reddish cast, turning everything that isn't in tar-black shadow into an hazy, choppy scene the colour of blood.
Your eyes become stuck on a paragraph which, coupled with your very focused, very vivid, half-dreaming imagination, becomes a nightmare as your brain invents the sound... like watching a horrific accident that's too terrible to look away from... the account of one of Presley's musicians about a concert on what I gather was his last tour, describing how Elvis had to hold onto the microphone stand for support, how he was so drugged and listless he couldn't even sing the words to his own songs...
And your primed imagination pulls together a shaky, unfocused hand-held video recording of a rock star clinging to a microphone stand with the band thumping and crashing along behind him as if all's right with their world and yet it's so obvious something is very wrong... the singer tries to form the words of his own songs and he can't make them work, he can't keep up with the band, his eyes are half-closed as he channels all his strength into clinging to that microphone stand... the band continues to play along behind him but all that comes through the lead microphone is irregular mumbling... droning and patchy against a much stronger and steadier beat...
You blink and return to your bedroom thirty-five years later but only momentarily as you're suddenly thrown back in time again, a child standing in the doorway to her bedroom, swaying, the sound of a badly dragging music tape looping through her head, echoing through the pitch darkness as she tries to gather enough courage to make the sprint across the house to her parents' room through the sound of the dying cassette tape coming from all around.

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