The Wikipedians needed just eight minutes to cooly consign the “2011 Virginia earthquake” to history — the elapsed time between the temblor and the first bulletin in the online encyclopedia.
How do they know that Tuesday’s event near Mineral, Va., was the earthquake of the year for the state? What if it is forgotten after a monstrous seismic disaster that flattens, say, Richmond in October?
Nevermind. The weirdly wonderful service that Wikipedia provides in times such as these is to transform breaking news directly into remembrance of things past. To read a Wikipedia entry in the midst of another celebrity crackup, political scandal or natural disaster is to have the eerie sensation of looking back on the present from the future.
Alvaro Duran, 27, is a typical Wikipedian, one of the 88,000 more-or-less regular volunteer contributors and editors.
Duran is beginning a master’s program in Great Books this week at St. John’s College in Annapolis. On Tuesday, he had just returned to his apartment in Towson, Md., after running errands when he felt the quake. One of his first instincts was not to stand in a doorway but to create an entry for the encyclopedia.