The novelist Nicholson Baker writes affectingly about loss here—about, that is to say, lost knowledge; the elimination of entries from Wikipedia.

As I am most fond of Nicholson Baker for his article on fingernail clippers I suppose it should come as no surprise that he loves Wikipedia; as I am secondarily most fond of Nicholson Baker for his article on the evils—evils! I do not use the word lightly—of libraries’ deaccessioning and destroying newspapers (which gave rise to this collection), I suppose it should come as no surprise that he hates the wanton deletion of articles from Wikipedia. After all, newspapers take up a lot of space—you can at least make a case for getting rid of them; Wikipedia articles not so much. Still, people are busily determining what you should not know:

There are some people on Wikipedia now who are just bullies, who take pleasure in wrecking and mocking peoples’ work—even to the point of laughing at nonstandard “Engrish.” They poke articles full of warnings and citation-needed notes and deletion prods till the topics go away.

In the fall of 2006, groups of editors went around getting rid of articles on webcomic artists—some of the most original and articulate people on the Net. They would tag an article as nonnotable and then crowd in to vote it down. One openly called it the “web-comic articles purge of 2006.” A victim, Trev-Mun, author of a comic called Ragnarok Wisdom, wrote: “I got the impression that they enjoyed this kind of thing as a kid enjoys kicking down others’ sand castles.” Another artist, Howard Tayler, said: “‘Notability purges’ are being executed throughout Wikipedia by empire-building, wannabe tin-pot dictators masquerading as humble editors.” Rob Balder, author of a webcomic called PartiallyClips, likened the organized deleters to book burners, and he said: “Your words are polite, yeah, but your actions are obscene. Every word in every valid article you’ve destroyed should be converted to profanity and screamed in your face.”

I once attended a fine after-dinner talk called something like “On the Burning, Sinking, Rending, and Eating of Books,” about all the things we, as a civilization, used to know and now can no longer know. Strange things are done to the historical record in the name of orderliness and conservation of space.