Wikipedia co-founder to debate author, Internet skeptic March 30

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The Ubben Lecture Series will host Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and Nicholas Carr, author of "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains" March 30. The two will debate and examine an issue fundamental to college campuses: What are technology and the Internet doing to our lives?

Coordinating the lecture took four months of hundreds of phone calls and e-mails from Ken Owen to various speakers bureaus. Owen, the executive director of media relations and coordinator of the Ubben Lectures said this was one of his most challenging events to coordinate, even more taxing than when Tony Blair, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, visited campus in 2008.

"We'd find a date, and then it wouldn't work for somebody," Owen said. "It was like a chess game, and the pieces were just constantly moving about the board...It was just nerve wracking."

The program, "Wired…and Weary?" will be hosted in Kresge Auditorium in the Green Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

"In this case, I had heard that students [had] this kernel of an idea to have a technology lecture," Owen said. "The problem with technology is that most practitioners are not great speakers." 

DePauw Student Government aims to incorporate some student activity in conjunction with the lecture, like a student-speaker conversation forum or a technology-free day. Student Government Vice President David Dietz said they originally wanted to do an Internet-free day, but it isn't possible.

"We're the first generation to grow up in a technology-dependent way," Dietz, a senior, said. "Right now, we're trying to create some manner of programming to cause students to reflect on how much they use technology." 

Student government is still considering ideas and asking for feedback on the event they hope to coordinate, Dietz said.

Carr, a former executive editor for the Harvard Business Review and author of four books, writes largely on the current state of the Internet and modern information usage. According to a New York Times review of "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains," Carr "insists that the negative side effects of the Internet outweigh its efficiencies." 

Jimmy Wales co-founded Wikipedia, the fifth-most-visited website on the Internet, in 2001 with Larry Sanger and has since become the project's promoter and spokesman. He serves on the board for the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to provide wide arrays of content to the public free of charge. 

"Nicholas Carr kind of brings the weighty analysis," Owen said. "So we've got that in one corner and on the other side we have Jimmy Wales…who has really revolutionized the way we look up stuff."

Carr believes that society's wide use of computers has ruined attention spans, making users rely on scanning everything they read and fall prey to every temptation — Twitter, advertisements, links — fighting for their attention. One of Carr's well-known articles titled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?: What the Internet is doing to our brains," was published in 2008.

In a 2005 blog essay, Carr criticized the quality of Wikipedia, and argued it has an overall negative effect on society by replacing professionally produced information alternatives. 

"I think this is going to be a popular event," Owen said. "I think this is one of those things that really touches on something we're all really grappling with."

Sarah Julian, a sophomore who goes to as many speaker events as possible, is also looking forward to Carr and Wales' visit.

"It will be interesting, especially since some professors are anti-Wikipedia," Julian said.

Freshman Hai Nguyen said if he's not busy, maybe he'll attend the lecture, but he thinks the topic is interesting. 

"I haven't really thought about this before, I just Google and Wikipedia," he said of the site's accessibility. "I think it's going to be a good way to think more about what we do." 

— Chase Hall contributed to this story.