Wikipedia and man: In 1972, Carl Sagan was preparing to send humans into space. The missions were unmanned at the time, but NASA asked Sagan to draw an image of the Earth's inhabitants for the voyage, in case the spacecraft fell into "alien hands".
So Carl Sagan designed two nudes with the help of his wife Linda Salzman Sagan and his friend Frank Drake. Linda wanted the woman to have Asian features, and an African man, according to Carl's memoirs - although both designs ended up looking more like Europeans, with bodies typical of the 1970s, according to Wired.
Sagan faced an old problem. Whenever the officers behind an encyclopedia (or a NASA mission) have to portray humanity, they should somehow include the whole species in a single form, a typical sample, as biologists would call it.
This is why the authors of the "Human" entry in Wikipedia had a difficult time in 2003.
A documented encyclopedia, in theory, offers a solution to the problem of representation. None of the authors themselves have control over the way in which a subject is presented.
So they had to choose an image that would display most of the diversity and cultural hue that makes mankind beautiful and interesting.
Initially, they chose Sagan's image, which remained in its prime position for about five years. However, the authors were not satisfied. Hundreds discussion pages shows that many of them were desperately trying to change things.
2003, the picture was not good enough for foreigners, but it was good enough for those who had access to the internet.
But on February 23, 2004, Wikipedia author Mishac said the plan portrayed "Caucasians:"
"Exactly based on human hair, it is obvious that the people in the design are definitely not from the Sahara, Australia or Asia."
Nobody answered Mishac, but the author first reported an important issue. About half of the world's population is in Asia. Less than one billion of 7.2 billion people are Europeans.
It was just math: The top image of the human page of Wikipedia represented a minority view of modern humanity.
By the autumn of 2004, a very serious dialogue on objectivity emerged. The authors aimed to find a representative sample. Editors Tom and Rednblu claimed that people in the picture should wear clothes because our wardrobe is a critical part of how human evolution has circumvented some of the selection factors that the other species have shaped. There were objections that said people were "racial hunters" for most of their history and did not necessarily have to wear clothes.
Then came the suggestions: John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Albert Einstein. Many personalities, and historically smart. The students of Carl Linnaeus, the founder of the modern classification, did the same thing. Linnaeus insisted on a human description that represented a Latin phrase that meant "man, you know yourself".
So, after years of discussion, a team of authors decided to replace Sagan's example.
The series took a couple in Thailand who represents us all, collectively for 10 years.
They are located in a very green lawn, in a hillside setting. The man wears a red hat and is frowned, while the woman smiles lightly and has a white ribbon in her hair. They are our digital species.
The picture was not perfect. The authors questioned the photo taken by the American photographer Gordon Parks as part of a government project, 1943, because he was very American. It did not reflect the racial reality among the states, they said. And the septic tone was ruining the tones of the girl's skin.
So, between 2004 and 2008, the Wikipedia editors conducted a real war of views on the issue. Wikipedia's open-source policy has led to some awkward manipulations as the editors were constantly changing and adding images. Sagan's image sometimes prevailed, while at other times two images appeared on the same page.
The authors criticized the image of Sagan. The woman in the picture had no external genitalia. The design was not colored. He did not show children or old people.
The authors started to look at more photos, including one showing a naked family with a child and a pregnant woman. Others again thought they could completely bypass the controversy by simply displaying a photograph of a hand or cartoon.
Many years have passed, until they eventually ended:
2007, a nickname user Silence discovered a photo in Wikipedia's "Couples" entry and added it to the sentences.
It was a photo of a man and a woman from the Akha community in Thailand. A German photographer named Manuel Jobi, named Weltenbummler84, took the photo and added it to German Wikipedia in December of 2006. 2007, Jobi added the image to Wikimedia.
Ο Silence, who did not comment on his move, tells FAQ that he chose this image for alphabetical reasons - "Akha" starts with the letter "A." No one changed anything, perhaps because they did not want to refute the exhaustive arguments that would follow from the other authors. Thus, the power of arbitrary choice allowed the group to come to an agreement after years of negotiations.
But this icon tells a lot about the human being: The Akha community, consists of about 700.000 people living in the areas around the Mekong River. Micah Morton, an anthropologist who lived there and recorded the traditions of Akha, managed to confirm that the photo couple was Akha from the woman's shoulder bag. She says she holds a knife on her side that she probably used to cut the banana stem that the man raises. They probably return home, with food on the back.
For many generations, Akha cultivated rice, which offered their ancestors 12 times a year. Akha now cultivates coffee, tea, and rubber. Most young people attend compulsory courses in public schools and have moved to cities.