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I have never ever sat an examination where I was allowed to use a calculator. I am from a generation that began at primary school learning about dipping pens into inkwells and went on to work on log tables. University years were a little simpler as we had moved on to slide rules, and I benefited from my father letting me have a lovely one that had been gifted to him by Lennig Chemicals, the UK subsidiary of Rohm & Haas.
Despite the rush to digital technology and the effort I have put into becoming a ‘digital convert’ – what an old-fashioned term that now feels – I remain rooted in a preference for pen and paper, physical books, paper maps with compasses, vinyl music and our old-fashioned Encyclopaedia Britannica, in which I invested so much when our children were young.
Nevertheless, the digital tools that were left over after the DotCom boom did allow globalisation to accelerate and productivity to improve, making it easier to pull hundreds of millions out of poverty around the world. The counter argument to that is that our political leaders at the time, who were so excited by the powers of this new technology, overlooked the fact that the wealth being created was not trickling down to the left-over groups in their own communities, which, as we have seen, will lead to a fractured society. Like all technology, it needs to be carefully scrutinised and used only where it makes a valid contribution.
For leather, there is no doubt that the creative destruction of the late 20th century eradicated many aged plants that were totally unsuited for adaptation for the 21st century, but as we see in places like France, Italy and Portugal, battling to hold onto the address has helped keep alive vital craftsmanship. This skill helps us build better products that last longer and can be repaired, making leather stand out from alternate materials which offer neither, and instead quickly get worn, dirty and damaged. So, we must not reject the digital, but we must be more critical about when and why we adopt them.
Wikipedia is a case in point. It is 20 years old this month and quickly became one of the top ten visited sites, one of the most quoted, one of the most argued about, and one that pushed the venerable Britannica into bankruptcy and near oblivion. You should not use it as primary source for serious work, but usually, the references are there to allow you to dig back into the original and peer reviewed material. Despite some pages being hotly disputed and constantly changing, in the main, it is recognised as a comprehensive and reliable source.
Or almost so. Take the leather section, which has a self-styled monitoring editor who appears to be from greater New York. He or she goes under the name of “Oknazevad” and identifies as a member of “WikiProject New York City Public Transportation”. On a number of occasions during 2020, I attempted to make minor adjustments to the pages in the hope that we might expand the topic and explain not merely the history, but also how the modern industry has been transformed. Yet, every change or addition I made was deleted. Hard to comprehend jargon was used to tell about needing to always use Christian names and to have sufficient citations, even when items were fully referenced. After a while, I gave up, having clearly been identified as an unreliable source.
Luckily, now I see that the battle has been taken up by the IULTCS and Leather Naturally, who are looking to build a small team of more digital natives to take on the fight and make the section more representative of the real leather industry. Let us give them our support and wish them well. They have plenty of good, accurate and well referenced material to go on and much better photos of the leather industry than those from Fez and Marrakesh that are currently featured.
A well written section should be in the leather industry’s marketing plan. If we cannot improve these pages, the information on leather will fragment on Wikipedia, as new postings are put in separate sections to escape the view of Oknazevad. Yet, while wider posting in Wikipedia has some value, getting a well written main leather section should be a central part of the wider leather industry’s marketing plan. There is no evidence that Oknazevad is in any way malevolent, only that we need a more competent team to work with him.
Even as I sit at home listening to The Who Live at Leeds on vinyl, I do recognise that Wikipedia is a major source of information that needs to be as complete and accurate as possible. So, I would commend the task to all those able to help.
January 20, 2021
Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood
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