Wikipedia and Google assert themselves

“Assertiveness is most effective when least applied.” – Wes Fessler

“The basic difference between being assertive and being aggressive is how our words and behavior affect the rights and well-being of others.” – Sharon Anthony Bower

Do you like these quotes? Maybe you recognize the authors. I confess that I don’t at this moment. And I’m hampered in any effort to find out and share with you because Wikipedia has shut its (English-language) doors for the day[1]. Fortunately Google continues to function, though it’s temporarily superposed a censor’s blackout on its iconic logo. Makes a real statement! By clicking on that icon, I reached the following text…

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“Millions of Americans oppose SOPA and PIPA because these bills would censor the Internet and slow economic growth in the U.S.

Two bills before Congress, known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, would censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American business. Millions of Internet users and entrepreneurs already oppose SOPA and PIPA.

The Senate will begin voting on January 24th. Please let them know how you feel. Sign this petition urging Congress to vote NO on PIPA and SOPA before it is too late.”

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They also had some draft language they’re hoping we might share with our Congressional representatives. And they make it simple to do so. Just a few clicks and you’ll let (supposedly) the right people know.

All this raises a few questions…

Is the pending legislation news to you? Have you been tracking its progress for months? Or only for the last 24 hours? Does the legislation matter to you? [My guess is it does! The Internet started out as an adjunct to our lives. But today it's woven through the entire fabric of what we do.] Do you think Google and Wikipedia are right? Or wrongheaded? Are you going to take the trouble to educate yourself about the legislation fully? Write an informed note to your Senator or Representative? Or to the White House? But now let’s go beyond the substance of the issue and look at the process. What do you think about Google and Wikipedia’s advocacy approach? Does it make you more or less sympathetic to them? To their cause?

Do you and I think this will be the last time in our lives that we will hear from them in this way?

And finally, could this approach escalate? What would be the consequences if everyone behaved this way, on all issues?

As things stand now, Google has done little more than touch our arm…get our attention. Wikipedia has gone a bit further. They’re actually crimping our productivity. But just a tad, and only for a day. [And only for those who aren’t multilingual. Speak and read French or Spanish? Chinese? This isn’t going to slow you down a bit.

But the risk is…that many more of us, from every walk of life, may be tempted to copy this method, in order to get what we want.

In defense of Google, Wikipedia (and other IT firms joining in today), they haven’t invented this line of attack. [And, in their view, they've been provoked. They see this as an extraordinary measure.] In France, workers for different sectors take to the streets all the time. With the Euro in crisis, we’re seeing this in Greece and other nations as people are subjected to draconian austerity measures.

But what if Democrats tried this more with Republicans and vice versa? Climatologists and the unconvinced? Pro-life and pro-choice? Eagles and Redskins fans? Husbands and wives?

Oops.

That’s exactly what’s happening in far too many instances. And the strategy, when escalated, proves itself to be bankrupt.

As today’s quotes remind us, assertiveness only works when it’s the exception, not the rule. And when no one gets hurt.

Not everyone goes this way. In this country, the air traffic controllers tried it in the early months of the Reagan Administration. Federal workers aren’t supposed to go on strike and cripple essential services such as commercial aviation. The president beat back the strikers quickly and firmly and in the process burnished his reputation.

The community of government- and private-sector workers who maintain the continuity of Earth observations, science, and services, in order to bring you weather reports and warnings every day? They don’t do assertiveness. They just ensure your critical needs are met. The same holds true for those responsible for keeping the lights on, ensuring that every faucet and tap keeps flowing with cheap water that’s safe to drink, making sure your smartphones work, that teachers are in the schools each day for your kids, that doctors and nurses are at the ready for your medical emergency, and so on.

But in many cases, these service providers are strained to the breaking point. In these and other instances, if we don’t want them tempted to be assertive, we have to take trouble to be sensitive to their situation and needs, to provide them attention and support, not because they’re assertive…

…but because they deserve it.

Today, let’s do our bit to make to make assertiveness unnecessary. 



[1] Actually, of course, other websites do offer this needed information!

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2 Responses to Wikipedia and Google assert themselves

  1. Rob says:

    I know it’s not really the point, but technical measures can overcome technical approaches to blocking access to wikipedia. The Spanish-language version is not as complete, and I’m sure that’s more true for many other languages. If you want to use the English wikipedia, software that stops scripts, or even simply hitting esc before the scripts run allows you to read articles.

  2. William Hooke says:

    Thanks, Rob…
    …for a useful/practical tip.
    Bill

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