If you, like me, grew up in the age of the budding internet, then Wikipedia may have been your constant companion through adolescence. The benevolent alternative to Google — and less judgmental than the best therapist — Wikipedia will answer all of your weird, stupid and creepy questions. Believe me, they’ve probably seen worse.
Recently, I took a deep dive into the account @depthsofwikipedia, run by New Yorker Annie Rauwerda. Who else would know about the island Cards Against Humanity bought? Or about that weird skin pocket on your cat’s ear? Technopaganism? The IKEA Effect?
Naturally, I had to learn more. I reached out to Rauwerda with a few questions on the account she created and actively runs.
Alice Murphy: Why and when did you decide to create this Instagram account?
Annie Rauwerda: I created the account from my bedroom in Ann Arbor during late April about six weeks into quarantine. I have a friend who put together a zine (“quaran-zine”) loosely comprised of quarantine routines through different lenses (playlists, food diaries, compiled to-do lists, etc). I arranged some weird Wikipedia screenshots (think: cow captioned “a healthy cow lying on her side is not immobilized; she can rise whenever she chooses” and the article on the Hedgehog’s dilemma) as a homage to the internet rabbit holes I’d spent so much time exploring. I didn’t want to stop! I was surprised to learn that there was no internet home of short-form Wikipedia screenshots. I still can’t believe nobody did this before I did — I think I just stumbled upon an unfilled niche at the right time.
AM: What about the weird side of Wikipedia appeals to you?
AR: The humor isn’t so much the eccentricities of Wikipedia itself but the bizarre corners of the world that warrant their own page. There’s a modern-day Library of Alexandria at our fingertips with articles like “Polar bear jail” about a holding facility in Manitoba that isolates “troublesome or dangerous” polar bears.
I’m not always sure how to categorize the humor — some posts have the reliability quality of memes (Early Life, Pizza, Death) and most posts have elements of “surreal humor,” characterized by deliberate violations of causal reasoning, where amusement is founded on unpredictability. The other day I posted about the 2004 Dave Matthews Band Chicago River incident, where a tour bus dumped 800 pounds of septic waste onto passengers of a sightseeing boat. The story itself is absurd and hilarious and unpredictable, but what really gets me is that it’s legitimized with its own Wikipedia page.
AM: Any particular pages/facts that you find fascinating?
AR: I live in New York City right now and have been obsessed with the cats in bodegas. I recently learned on the page “Bodega cat” that a city law prohibits establishments [that house live animals] from selling food, fining bodegas around $300 for a violation. The interesting part is that rodent infestations also carry a $300 fine, so many bodega owners keep cats in spite of the law as a sort of rodent solution.
AM: I saw you posted about the killing of George Floyd and that you linked a very useful website for BLM resources in your bio. As an account with 25.7k followers, you have a large platform. How do you view your role on social media concerning societal, racial, environmental and other issues we are dealing with today?
AR: I am excited by the reach that Instagram activism can have, but I’ll admit that I have struggled to define boundaries for the account. I’m passionate about promoting causes like climate change legislation, socialized healthcare, checks on obscene wealth, and increased support for programs involving childcare, education, and community policing. But at some level, I feel obligated to stick to the premise of the account which is rather frivolous articles and mildly amusing facts. My grid posts remain politically ambiguous but I tend to share explicitly political content on stories. Genuine change doesn’t end with serif-font social justice slideshows, but I’m optimistic about the energy that online activism has injected into long-established movements.
Below, find a few of Rauwerda’s pages that I couldn’t help but save.
If weird landmasses are your thing…
Then you probably want to check out some of the smallest and oddest ones Wikipedia can dig up.
Hawaii 2 consists of six acres on St. George’s Lake in Maine. Cards Against Humanity LLC purchased it as a part of a fundraiser for the Sunlight Foundation.
Busta Rhymes Island is a potential name for an unnamed island in Shrewsbury, Worcester County, Massachusetts. The island is located in a pond, measures 40 by 40 feet, and supposedly contains, “stuff Busta would enjoy” according to Kevin O’Brien, the advocate for “Busta Rhymes Island.”
Mill Ends Park, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the smallest park in the world, coming in at 2 feet in diameter (452 square inches). It contains one tree, and is located in the median strip along the SW Naito Parkway in Portland, Oregon.
The effect of these effects are effective
Do you often find yourself increasingly attracted to other people as the sun begins to set? You may be experiencing the Closing Time Effect. How about the IKEA Effect? Reportedly this is a “cognitive bias in which customers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created.”
You Can Never Go Wrong with a Listicle
- List of People Who Have Lived in Airports
- Most Common Street Names in the United States (as of 1993)
- List of People Who Died on the Toilet
- List of Wealthiest Animals
- List of Inflatable Manufactured Goods
Case in point, Wikipedia is a veritable endless well of information. There’s even a Wikipedia page on the Wikipedia rabbit hole you can so easily go tumbling down. Perhaps in this particular time of turbulence, a few random, chuckle-inducing pages might not be such a bad thing. Who knows when these might come in handy? Let me know what you find!