For Argentine software programmer Juan Ignacio Iglesias, sharing knowledge through Wikipedia and the internet has made the world feel a lot more accessible and more connected.
Like many other Wikipedians, Iglesias’ first real introduction to the power of Wikipedia came at a Wikimania conference, which he attended in Buenos Aires in 2009 and where he shot a number of photos to upload to Wikimedia Commons.
“I saw that somebody tagged me on a picture on Facebook, so I said well maybe it’s a picture from the conference,” said Iglesias. “And it was a picture of a newspaper, a New York Times newspaper, that had my pictures on the page.”
“I started thinking… well, if I didn’t use Creative Commons licenses, or if I didn’t release the pictures for the public domain, my pictures wouldn’t have been published in one of the most important newspapers in the whole world,” he marveled. “I think that was a life-changing experience for me. Wikimania 2009 really changed the way I started to look at some things.”
Iglesias was further motivated to contribute to Wikipedia when he understood its global reach and the power it has to make information available to anyone in the world with an internet connection.
“I’ve learned all I know about programming by reading websites; I looked back and recognized how shared knowledge changed my life and made it basically better,” he said. “I was able to get a great job and all that was possible because some people shared information that I used to learn.”
Growing up with the changing Argentine economic policies in the 1990s, followed by the devastating 2001 economic crisis, Iglesias expressesd a deep appreciation that he had access to a computer. “Because of how my parents raised me, but also because I had access to the Internet in a cyber-cafe or in a library, I was fortunate enough to start learning things that I couldn’t have learned in another way,” he said. “I never had a book about computer science because there weren’t any books at that time, or the books that were here were really expensive.”
Iglesias’ hope is that the Internet can serve as a similar source of inspiration and knowledge for those who would otherwise lack access to traditional methods of learning. Now, with a government policy in place that aims to provide all children attending secondary school with netbooks in Argentina, Iglesias’ dream is closer to reality.
“Even poor kids now have access to the Internet,” he said. “I thought, well if Internet changed my life, got me a great job and made me meet so many wonderful people, now that can happen to almost every kid. They now have access to the same things that I have access to. Wide access to the Internet is a really powerful society-changing tool.”
As Iglesias explains it, Wikipedia and other online networks have the ability to change the way people engage with the world around them. “I think that Internet is one of the greatest human inventions” he said. “There might be problems, but its positive effects are infinitely more. It’s really made frontiers between countries look smaller. The world is much smaller now.”
By creating a smaller interconnected world in which information is readily available for anyone, Iglesias expects to see a positive impact in our interactions and our ability to access information. “Wikipedia is the best thing that the Internet has done. And we are now looking to a generation that was born in Internet times, people born during the 90s are used to the existence of Internet, and I think that this will change how we look at education, how we look at politics, how we look at society and how we look at ourselves.”
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