It's Saturday, so it must be time for another Wikiscandal. Jimmy Wales has gotten caught with his fingers in the identity till again. This time it's concerns "Essjay", one of the Wikipedia activists interviewed last July by Stacy Schiff in a New Yorker piece ominously entitled "Know It All". Essjay told Schiff he was tenured professor of theology with four academic degrees. But Essjay turns out, in real life, to be a 24 year Wikipedia enthusiast from Kentucky called Ryan Jordan whose only real theological claim-to-fame lay in his association with Jimmy Wales. So Schiff didn't really know it all and her article ended up misleading everyone by presenting Essay/Ryan as an academic theologian rather than a theological activist.
This identity fraud could have been both predicted and scripted by leading Wikicritics Jimmy Sanger, Nick Carr and Andrew Orlowski. As they all remind us, "Essjay" is different from past Wikiscandals in one critical respect. Jimmy Wales didn't apologize for the fraud. According to the New Yorker, Jimmy said: "I regard it as a pseudonym and I don't really have a problem with it."
So what's up with Jimmy? Is he, as Orlowski thinks, a deluded "Maximum Leader" -- Web 2.0's version of Kim Jong Il. Or is he, as Wikipedia co-founder Sanger fears, a "tragic" figure so immersed in the make-believe world of Wikipedia ("Jimboland") that he can't distinguish between fantasy and truth. Are we watching Rashomon here or Life of Brian?
Maybe it's a combination of the two -- what the Web 2.0 chorus would call a "mash-up" -- of Kurosawa and Monty Python. Identity doesn't seem to matter to "multiple world" Web 2.0 fantasists like Wales. We can all be all things to all people at the same time. So Jimmy can be simultaneously a get-rich-quick entrepreneur, an idealistic pioneer of free knowledge, a bomb throwing critic of mainstream media and a founding father of the Web 2.0 establishment. And Essjay/Kevin can be simultaneously a 24 year old know-nothing punk from Kentucky and one of the world's leading theological authorities. This is the "Many Life" phenomenon brilliantly uncovered by Jenny Diski in a Feb 8 essay in the London Review of Books.
Most religions suggest that we get at least one other go at being. Christianity offers an afterlife, Judaism suggests an altogether better existence once the Messiah arrives, while Hinduism and other Eastern religions try to deal with samsara, the terrible burden of having to do life over and over again until you get it right. But I don’t think any of them offer much help with the alarming notion of multiple worlds, which quantum theorists have arithmeticked to prove entirely possible. As far as I can understand it, Many Worlds Theory proposes that there are n zillion worlds like this one but marginally different, operating in parallel to the only world in which we think we exist. There you’re wearing pink kitten heels not Hush Puppies, there you had sausage for breakfast not muesli, there it so happened that you took a left turn not a right one and became a fashionistic, carnivoracious arch-criminal instead of the peace-negotiating, vegan, style wasteland you are in this world. We might each be living out all our possible lives, through all the variations of what we could possibly say or do, in an infinite number of worlds where everyone else is living out their variations, each at some weird angle to this one that my sorry, innumerate and spatially challenged brain is unable to comprehend. If this sounds like hell on earths to you then you probably haven’t signed up for Second Life.
Wikipedia is second life outside Second Life. It's there in Jimmy Wales' head. Jimmy thinks he can be everyone, all of the time. In Wikipedia, he is.