Starting from scratch
When I was growing up, the goal with your records was to not scratch them. I learned how to hold the black orbs by the edges between my palms as soon as I started raiding my older brother’s Who collection. Billy Joel smiled at me from the Italian restaurant on the cover because I cleaned lint from the needle before I spun The Stranger. I might have worn a groove in Give Me Three Steps, but there was never an unwanted pop or hiss on either disc of my first double album, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gold & Platinum.
At some point along the way, the not scratching thing changed. I know it was well after MTV appeared, forcing its way into our TV diet alongside and eventually replacing half hour episodes of The Love Boat and Three’s Company. It was probably not too long after the time that my older sister started walking around reciting lyrics from “Rapper’s Delight,” like “Have you ever been over to a friend’s house to eat and the food just ain’t no good?/ The macaroni’s soggy, the peas are mush and the chicken tastes like wood...”. Whenever it actually happened, I remember the practice actually had an onomatopoetic word associated with it for about fifteen minutes: “wiki-wiki.”
Some musicologically astute reader out there may remember the tune in which this word first appeared, or even know whether it preceded or imitated the actual sound made by DJ’s half-wearing big head phones who flopped back and forth between records. In fact, I bet I could find more on this on Wikipedia. (But I’m getting ahead of myself.) Whatever its origins, the “wiki-wiki” sound, now called mixing and scratching, has come a long way. The once forbidden act of dragging a record needle across vinyl in the wrong direction is today ubiquitous in musical genres from hip hop to pop.
I offer this admittedly imperfect history of a particular sound as an example of how an aspect of technology, through culture, art, and big sisters, gets folded into the mainstream. And also, because the word “wiki” has been stuck in my head ever since last Tuesday, when I heard a presentation by NVWP tech guru and Woodbridge High School English teacher Eric Hoefler about “Web 2.0” and its applications in my classroom.
I know even less about the frontiers of today’s world wide web than I do about the history of DJ’ing, but for those as clueless as I was before Eric’s dynamic presentation (if you’re over 25 that means you), “Web 2.0” is a current philosophy about how the internet should be used that promotes collaboration, free sharing of ideas and “code,” and generally thumbs its nose at proprietary software peddled by blood-sucking corporate giants like Microsoft.
You may not know about the revolution, but by now you’ve probably heard of or looked something up on Wikipedia, an increasingly referenced online encyclopedia (at least by our students) and the largest wiki in the world. And by wiki I don’t mean the funny sound, I mean a collectively authored website. Eric told us some cool stuff about Wikipedia: a recent article in Nature says it’s more or less as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica; and, they did a study showing that “wrong information” put up on the more trafficked entries of Wikipedia lasts only about 5 minutes before someone out there in cyberspace corrects it. (By the way, here's Brittanica's snarky response and Nature's rebuttal.)
The rub? I want to make a wiki with my students this year to chronicle our canoe project. This may be as foolhardy as wanting to make the canoe itself, something else I know virtually nothing about. But since when has that stopped me. I already had the idea of a website to scrapbook the process. A wiki, a website we make as we go, is a better tool for the job. What makes me think we can pull it off? None of the kids I’ll be working with remember a time when records weren’t supposed to be scratched.