Wikipedia and the 105-year-old blogger

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Dagny Carlsson (aka Bojan) image by Almega – https://www.flickr.com/photos/almega/9206567927/in/photolist-f2xXun-f2y4TM, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51725946

For reasons yet to be linked to Wikipedia, this week I ended up on the home page of a 105-year-old Swedish blogger who goes by the moniker Bojan. I know, it sounds like material for a Nordic noir series. When starting out with the online arts at the age of 100, Bojan starkly rejected comparisons with the ‘100-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared,’ (a popular Swedish novel by Jonas Jonasson).

Bojan’s invariably short pieces reflect on the wonders of daily life that people half her age take for granted. She comments often about the seasons, the weather, old age and being single and alone.

In one recent blog (I found one dated November 5, 2017), Bojan wrote about Swedes who live by themselves. The Google-translate app I suspect renders the English somewhat less fluent than it might be in, say, a Henning Mankell thriller. But you’ll get the drift.

“The other day I read the news that in Stockholm, there are thousands of single-family households, more specifically 380,000 or 40% of the population live by themselves. In the past, there was some suspicion of living alone, but now it is more tolerated. It’s also easier to be single when there are several of them. I myself have been single since 2004 and I think so, of course. It was obviously more enjoyable to be part of a flatness (sic?), but it is pointless to feel sorry for it. Single households are today Sweden’s most common housing form, and nobody thinks it’s something strange. At first, I thought it was pure sorrow to live by myself, but one must get together and live on.”

Bojan started getting together and living on at 100, after buying a computer and teaching herself how to use it. Some of her more recent posts suggest she has become a reluctant ‘cause celebre’ through the conventional media’s fascination with a centenarian who has mastered the online universe. She has done many interviews, appeared on TV chat shows and been the subject of a film, “Life Begins at 100”.

Filmmaker Asa Blanck tracked Dagny Carlsson down and persuaded her to participate in a project which even he admitted was likely to be thwarted by the subject’s death. But no, Dagny turned 105 in May and continues to amuse readers, day by day. (A sequel is planned – the very definition of optimism).

Dagny’s blog is as Blanck found her – “a brusque old lady – all gallows humour”. She promised readers she would not be intentionally nasty but if she ‘trod on toes’, she did not really give a damn, or det kvittar mig, as they say in Sweden. Dagny dreamed of being a teacher when she was young but ended up working as a seamstress. She escaped an abusive first marriage and found love with her second husband, who died when she was in her 90s.

As Blanck observed: “She had managed to rise above her strenuous, grey existence and she had decided she would finally do what she had wanted to do all her life: write.”

Sweden’s blog-readers soon caught up with Bojan’s racey, funny insights and seemingly outrageous behaviour for ‘someone of her age’. For example, she writes about women wearing jeans and how they never did in her day. At 101 she went out and bought a pair of denims.

Ah yes, now I remember how I ended up on Bojan’s blog. I’d been deeply delving into the Wikipedia universe – a free community encyclopedia we writers tend to take for granted. Anyone can contribute, edit or update ‘Wikis’ within Wikipedia. You just need to register as an editor and then be mindful your input will be monitored by a legion of truly vigilant Wikipedia editors. Your input could be as simple as correcting a typo to contributing a new biography of someone you think should have a Wikipedia entry.

One of the things that fascinate me about Wikipedia is the community vigilance which results in entries being updated very quickly. Within hours, it seemed, of the news of Tom Petty’s death, someone had updated his Wikipedia bio, including the premature announcements on social media and the controversy surrounding the timing of Petty’s fatal cardiac arrest.

Wikipedia is essentially a collection of some five million articles in English and another 40 million in 293 languages, all contributed pro-bono by people who care about history, accuracy and detail.

I asked my blogger friend Franky’s Dad if he had ever edited items for Wikipedia. Yes, said FD, a few hundred since 2006. He’d even created a piece about a singer, Bob Wilson. I was momentarily aghast until discovering the latter is a singer, guitarist and songwriter from Pleasant Valley California. Franky’s Dad, aka Lyn Nuttall, maintains a music trivia website www.poparchives.com.au, which aims to find out ‘Where Did They get That Song?’

FD reckons editing Wikipedia is one thing but creating a new entry can be hard yacka, what with their exacting standards for formatting and referencing.

The Listener’s technology correspondent Peter Griffin confessed he was a Wikipedia ‘freeloader’ until deciding to attend an edit-a-thon in Wellington. Events like this were attended by 70,000 people worldwide last year. The main idea is to pick a neglected subject and add to the body of work. There is also a push to correct what is seen as a gender imbalance. Griffin was not confident until encouraged by a veteran Wikipedia editor to “get stuck in and break things”.

The key intention is to keep it factual – not easy in the Trumpian world of fake news and flat-out fabrication. Griffin’s group were on safe enough ground, however, collating biographies of female scientists.

“The seasoned editors smiled knowingly as we fumbled along,” Griffin wrote in The Listener’s September 16 print edition.

“But after a full day, we’d created about 20 biographies of women in science and extensively edited 30 more.

“I’d like to think we increased the sum total of the world’s knowledge.”

Even famous racehorses have a Wikipedia entry. Australian racing’s latest super-horse, Winx, has won 22 races in succession, amassing more than $7 million in prizemoney for her owners. A few weeks back she won the country’s premier race (The Cox Plate), for the third time. No such profile for Regal Monarch, a racehorse with just four wins to its name, put down after falling in race four on Melbourne Cup day.

You’d think tragedies like this (remember Dulcify, 1979), would prompt connections to retire Winx to lush green pastures and make another fortune at stud. But there is an ambitious program in 2018 to race the mare again in Australia and against the best in Europe.

There was even talk she might contest the Emirates Stakes in Melbourne this weekend. But trainers know. Chris Waller last week said Winx would go to the spelling paddock. At least someone other than me could see that Humidor’s fast-finishing second in the Cox Plate did her in.

As Peter Griffin found at the edit-a-thon, only facts are allowed in Wikipedia, and each fact must be backed by a rigorous reference. So seriously is this edict taken, editors this year banned the UK Daily Mail as a source, citing poor fact checking, sensationalism and fabrication.

Additionally, bots continually crawl the Wikipedia site for signs of vandalism (intentional corruption).

So I guess I’ll keep my opinions about Winx to myself, then.

 

Blogging and human rights

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Protest in Iran photo by Christopher Rose https://flic.kr/p/7CJsu7

In case you were curious, the word blog in Farsi looks like this – وبلاگ. Iranians who didn’t like the way things were going in their country started وبلاگ’ing (blogging) like crazy after the 2000 crackdown on Iranian media. Iranians who interact with the internet are by definition risk-takers.

As recently as late 2016, five Iranians were sentenced to prison terms for writing and posting images on fashion blogs. The content was decreed to ‘encourage prostitution’.

The Independent quoted lawyer Mahmoud Taravat via state news agency Ilna that the eight women and four men he represented received jail time of between five months to six years. He was planning to appeal the sentences handed down by a Shiraz court on charges including ‘encouraging prostitution’ and ‘promoting corruption’.

The immediacy of blogging appeals to those who live under oppressive regimes. They use the online diary to inform the world of the injustices in their country as and when they happen. I cited Iran (Persia) as just one example of a country where expressing strong opinions contrary to the agenda of the ruling government is extremely risky business.

The founder of Iran’s blogging movement, Hossein Derakhshan, an Iranian-Canadian blogger, spent six years in prison (the original sentence was 19 and a half years), before being pardoned by Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Derakhshan also helped promote podcasting in Iran and appears to have been the catalyst that spawned some 64,000 Persian language blogs (2004 survey). Clearly there is/was a level of dissent among people who think the right to free speech is worth the risk of incarceration or worse.

Blogging can be a lot of things in Australia, but risky it rarely is, so long as you are mindful of the laws regarding defamation and contempt of court. Not so for bloggers or citizen journalists of oppressed countries who try to get the facts out.

It is no coincidence that most of the countries guilty of supressing free speech are among the 22 countries named by Amnesty International as having committed war crimes. They include Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan and, closer to home, Myanmar, where persecution and discrimination persists against the Rohingya. Amnesty’s national director Claire Mallinson told ABC’s The World Today that not only are people being persecuted where they live, 36 countries (including Australia) sent people back into danger after attempts to find refuge.

Amnesty’s Human Rights report for 2015-2016 does not spare Australia from criticism, particularly our treatment of children in custody, with Aboriginal children 24 times more likely to be separated from their families and communities. We are also complacent when it comes to tackling world leaders and politicians accused of creating division and fear.

Still, at least if you live in Australia you can openly criticise something the government is doing (or not doing), apropos this week’s Q&A and the Centrelink debt debate.

According to literary types who seem to have warmed to my turn of phrase, FOMM is not a blog as such, but an example of ‘creative nonfiction’ which I am told is not only a genre, but also something taught at universities.

I never knew that.

Bloggers in comfortable democracies like ours use blogs to write about cats, dogs, goldfish, cake recipes, fashion, yoga, raising babies, travel adventures and produce how-to manuals about anything you care to name.

The definition of a blog is ‘a regularly updated public website or web page, typically run by an individual or small group, written in an informal or conversational style.’

Scottish comedian and slam poem Elvis McGonagall, who you met last week, satirises the blog format with this entry.

Monday:

Woke up. Had a thought. Dismissed it. Had another. Dismissed that. Stared at the cows. The cows stared back. Scratched arse. Shouted at telly. Threw heavy object at telly. Had a wee drink. Had another. Went to bed.

Tuesday to Sunday – repeat as above

The definitive blog is an online daily diary, kept by people while travelling, carrying out some stated mission like preparing for an art exhibition, producing an independent album, dieting or training for a triathlon. Most of these literary exercises are abandoned at journey’s end, or on completion of the mission. A fine example of this is folksinger John Thompson’s marathon effort to post an Australian folk song each day for a year. He did this from Australia Day 2011 to January 26, 2012.

Some of the tunes have ended up on albums by Cloudstreet, Thompson’s musical collaboration with Nicole Murray and Emma Nixon.

The social worth of a blog, though, is when an oppressed human being writes a real time account of what atrocity or infringement of human rights is happening in their third-world village, right now.

There are millions of blogs circulating on the worldwide web, many of which are concerned with marketing, selling, promoting and luring readers into subscribing to the bloggers’ products and/or clicking on sponsors’ links. It is nigh-on impossible to find a list of blogs independently assessed on quality, although some have tried.

The Australian Writers Centre held a competition in 2014 to find Australia’s best blogs, dividing entries into genres like Personal & Parenting, Lifestyle/Hobby, Food, Travel, Business, Commentary and Words/Writing. The competition attracted hundreds of entries which were whittled down to 31 finalists.

The AWC told FOMM it has since switched its focus to fiction competitions but has not dismissed the popularity of blogging. Even so, continuity is an ever-present issue.

The 2014 winner, Christina Sung, combined travel and cooking, two topics which spawn thousands of blogs worldwide, into The Hungry Australian. But as happens with blogs, the author has somewhat moved on since then. As Christina last posted in September 2016: ‘Hello, dear readers! Apologies for my lengthy absence but I’ve been working on a few writing projects lately.’

Likewise, the author of The Kooriwoman, the Commentary winner for a blog about life as an urban Aboriginal in Australia, has not posted since January 2016.

It is not uncommon for finely-written blogs like those mentioned to have a hiatus or disappear without notice, for a myriad of reasons linked to other demands and distractions in the authors’ lives.

The few lists of Australian blogs you can find tend to rank them on popularity (numbers of followers or clickers). The top 10 blogs in this list are all about food or travel.

Hands-down winner Not Quite Nigella is a daily blog curated by Lorraine Elliott who according to blogmetrics has 28,523 monthly visitors. It’s not hard to see why – the blog is constantly updated with recipes, restaurant reviews, travel adventures and the like, featuring mouth-watering photos and a chatty prose style.

So there are those like Lorraine who make a living from blogging and those who start with a skyrocket burst of enthusiasm and fall to ground like the burnt-out stick.

Whatever your absorbing passion in life happens to be – cross-dressing, wood-carving, wine-making, writing haikus, collecting Toby jugs, quilt-making, proofreading or growing (medicinal) marijuana, you can bet someone out there has created a blog.

Just yesterday for no reason other than a bit of light relief after months of heatwave conditions, I searched for ‘grumpy spouse blog’ and got 22 hits. Have a look at this one – it’s choice.