Wikipedia, in the Flesh – The New Yorker


There are more than 6.4 million English-language articles on Wikipedia, covering knowledge as useful as “Bee removal” and as specific as “List of people who have lived in airports.” If compressed, the entire online encyclopedia would take up only twenty gigabytes. (Source for this claim? The Wikipedia article “Size of Wikipedia.”) On a recent Tuesday, four friends gathered via Google Meet to work out a way to turn Wikipedia into a tight ninety-minute show, to take place in downtown Manhattan, the following Friday. Three were local comedians; the fourth was Annie Rauwerda, a University of Michigan senior, studying neuroscience, who is the founder of the popular Instagram account @DepthsofWikipedia.

Rauwerda, twenty-two, is a year older than Wikipedia itself. For @DepthsofWikipedia, she ferrets out and posts the most esoteric extracts from the Web site—which is to say, from the collective sum of human knowledge. Some recent articles posted: “Timeline of the far future”; “Unknot,” a mathematical concept of the least-knotted possible knot; “Judaism in Rugrats.”

The Instagram account has more than eight hundred thousand followers, including John Mayer, Neil Gaiman, and Julia Fox. Grimes follows on TikTok. In March, the account went mildly viral for spotlighting the earliest-known bar joke, in ancient Sumerian. “A dog walked into a tavern and said, ‘I can’t see a thing. I’ll open this one.’ ” (“The humor of it,” the Wikipedia entry read, “is probably related to the Sumer way of life and has been lost.”)

The other day, after Rauwerda finished a class in which she dissected the brain of a fly, she joined the Google Meet call, with her cat, to discuss “Depths of Wikipedia LIVE!,” the first in-person event for this inherently online community. Tickets sold out; she was nervous. Reassuring words came from Reed Kavner, who hosts a PowerPoint-based comedy show. In the other squares were Ena Da and Juan Nicolón, from Uruguay. The plan was to mix comic presentations with games of audience interaction. Rauwerda would m.c.; Nicolón was down to do a ten-minute set drawing on the Wikipedia article “List of soups.” Rauwerda, scrolling, said, “I just opened it. Guess what I landed on? Tiger-penis soup!”

“This is why you’re good at this, Annie,” Kavner said.

Other events: Wikipedia racing, where contestants start on one page and race to another via hyperlinks, and a game called Citation Needed. Rauwerda ran through her opening remarks, which included slides on “Polar bear jail,” “Breast-shaped hill,” and “Unrequited love.” “I might delete this?” she said, pausing on a slide called “Zenzizenzizenzic.” “I just felt like mentioning that, you know, x to the eighth power is called zenzizenzizenzic?”

Kavner said, “Cool reveal.”

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