How to Handle the Wikipedia Blackout

Starting tomorrow, the world will briefly lose access to the English version of Wikipedia, Reddit, the Cheezburger network (including, plus a whole slew of other sites we all love to procrastinate on.

The sites are voluntarily shelving themselves for a day in protest of a pair of Congressional bills, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the basic nature of which is to block access and revenue flows to sites containing unauthorized copyrighted content. This could potentially affect current practices for basic links, search engine results, and internet service providers. Sites that live and die by their links (like Reddit) oppose the bills pretty vociferously and argue that the possible consequences would threaten not just their own livelihoods, but the very freedom that has made the internet so awesome.

Up to now, the general public may not have been paying too, too much attention to all this. Bills? SOPA? Acronyms? What? But I think it’s a safe bet people will take notice when Wikipedia locks up and turns off the lights for a day. I mean, shoot, last year, the Wikimedia Foundation averaged 13.6 billion pageviews a month (N.B., that’s across the board, though; not just to the English Wikipedia page). In terms of getting attention to the issues at hand, this is tremendous and a real coup for the anti-SOPA side of the coin.

All seriousness aside now, this also means that none of us are going to have access to our let-me-just-take-a-bathroom-break-before-I-answer-that website. We haven’t been without Wikipedia for over a decade. We’ve not been without Reddit and its heavenly linkfest of procrastination since 2005. What on earth are we going to do with ourselves?

I have a few suggestions.

1. Consider reading up on the bills that kicked the issue off, which you can do at non-Wiki sites like newspapers, and which, don’t worry, you can still do entirely online if you want to.

2. If you need to find something out that might not be in the news right this minute, you could try an encyclopedia. There are various online encyclopedias around and there are even hard copies, which is what I think was used before there was a lot of internet. You weren’t supposed to edit them, but you could if you had a pen and some Wite-Out. It’s been a while though, so don’t quote me on any of that. Neither type is quite as entertaining, wide-ranging, or accessible as Wikipedia, but they’re generally more reliable and it’s very unlikely that Sarah Palin could have tweaked bits of them to give her version of history.

3. There are libraries. We have an excellent one right here in Boston. The great thing about these is that not only can you do research in them, but if you hit up the fiction section, you can procrastinate there, too. The catch is that there is no CTRL-F command and no Google, so it’s going to take you a bit longer to get anywhere.

4. If you are one of those people who absolutely cannot go a day without a picture of a cat caught in a compromising position, ask one of your cat-owning friends to take a few photos of their pet and email them to you. With a little Photoshopping, you should be able to tide yourself over.