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I'm Elyce Hugh. It's Ted Talks Daily. The other day, I fell into a Wikipedia rabbit hole. One minute you're reading about some obscure horror movie trope, and then maybe an unusual chess opening move, or then Raids on Buddhist Pagotas. As writer and comedian Annie Rowerda says, It's infinite. In her fun and funny 2023 talk from TEDx U of M, an appreciation of Wikipedia and why we should contribute to this ever-expanding body of free knowledge. After the break.


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When I was younger, I used to be really into trivial pursuit, and sometimes I would memorize the backs of the card so I could win. And that's how I learned some of my favorite trivia. There's a name for those three asterisks in the book When the Vibe Changes. It's called a dinkus. I also learned that Oklahoma has a state vegetable and it's a watermelon. I've always really liked trivia, precisely because it's information that carries no responsibility at all. If you forget the information that's going to be on your test or your mom's birthday, you might have consequences, but you never have a test on state vegetables. It's learning that's just for fun. I've always been pretty curious. I graduated in 2022, and my favorite parts of my neuroscience classes were not necessarily the nitty gritty physiology. I really liked the funnier stuff, like the protein and limb development, named after sonic the Hedgehog, or this bridge, bicycle, molecule that looks like a teenage, mutant, Ninja turtle. Not all of my coursework was so charming, but I tried to convince myself that everything was at least a little bit interesting. One of the best ways to make things more interesting is to learn more than you have to.


My favorite place for a long time to quench my curiosity is Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. I've been a long time fan. I journaled about my Wikipedia reading habits when I was in fifth grade. And when classes went online in 2020, I found myself scrolling through all these Wikipedia articles and contributing. Anyone can edit the site. Some of the things I read had to do with my coursework. I learned that the P in PH doesn't stand for anything. I also learned about things that had no relation to my classes: fictional worms, non-water floods. Before I couldn't think too long about what it would have been like to live in London when beer was flowing through the streets, I was reading about Go Blue and B. O. S. U, fake towns. They don't exist, but they were put on the official Michigan map in the Ohio section at the bottom by mischievous mapmakers in the '70s. I started screenshoting my favorite pieces of trivia on Wikipedia, and I put them on Instagram. And that was in the early pandemic, and I'm still doing it. I posted things like the Michigan State Professor who took this model kidney to Disney World to see if roller coasters helped pass kidney stones.


They do. Good to know. Wikipedia is created by real people. Unlike traditional publishers or other encyclopedias, it doesn't require that you're an expert in your field. This is a user whose name is Diana, who has written probably everything you know about World War II and also P Diddy. There are thousands of people like this. You don't have to be an expert. You just have to be able to synthesize sources and follow style guidelines. Those guidelines are strict, but not so strict that a little personality doesn't shine through sometimes. This article about the Pope Mobile, I think, has quite a bit of personality. It says, John Paul II requested that the media stop referring to the car as the Pope Mobile saying that the term was undignified. The Pope Mobile. And then it goes on and on. Wikipedia sometimes feels infinite. I'm sure you've heard warnings that it's not perfect. Maybe your seventh grade teacher said, Don't use Wikipedia. Anyone can edit it. And it's true that there is some misinformation and disinformation on the site. Often, it's only up for a few seconds or minutes, but sometimes hoaxes last longer. For example, there was an article for 10 years about an Aboriginal god called Jarito Wens.


It didn't cite any sources. It should have been deleted, but it wasn't. And eventually, this information was printed in books and told in university lectures until after 10 years, somebody realized that the article was just created by probably an Australian teenager named Jared Owens. Wikipedia is not perfect, but studies have shown that it contains fewer factual inaccurateacies than Encyclopedia Britannica, and I think that's really impressive. In the summer of 2020, I kept posting my favorite trivia. Physically, I was quarantined, but I was exploring the world. Things like Breast Shape Hills or this unusual chess opening. I definitely was aware that there were islands and lakes. I knew that was a thing, but it had never occurred to me that there could be an island in a lake on an island. I also had never thought about the possibility of an island in a lake on an island in a lake, and I had definitely never considered the idea of an island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island. Wikipedia is just huge. It has 6.6 million articles in English alone. But it's not done. Wikipedia needs editors like you to contribute to free knowledge, whether that's small things like fixing commas or adding sources or big things like heavy content editing or making sure people aren't using it for advertisements.


There are some fun ways to contribute. This is a website called wikishootme. Toolforge. Org, and it shows you what landmarks nearby need photos. That's a fun way to contribute. Wikipedia should be representative of everything in the world, and you would hope that its contributors also reflected the world's population. By best estimates, the contributors are about 80 % male. There are a lot of efforts with editathons and marketing campaigns to get more people editing. I'll remind you, it's created by very normal, real people. This couple in 2008 noticed that there were no photos on the social media article for High Five, so they took matters in their own hands, acting out the sequence, up high, down low, victim misses, and too slow with finger guns. And then they added a hyperlink, so you can go visit the finger gun article if you want to. I thought this was very charming when I first saw it, and so I reached out to them. I tracked them down. It turns out after they did this, they started dating, they got married, they had kids, and they agreed to recreate the photos with their kids. People take the task of writing an encyclopedia very seriously.


I said that I get really into trivia. Some of these people will spend a long time doing very trivial things. There was a long debate on whether the caption, 'guy standing sitting, was too funny for an encyclopedia. They eventually removed the caption. There was a 40,000-word discussion on whether to capitalize the eye in Star Trek into darkness. So ultimately, I laugh at this meticulous detail, but I'm glad that people are thinking this deeply about things, especially in an era of social media, filter bubbles, and 24-hour news cycles when truth looks different depending on where you look. People on Wikipedia are coming together to write history in real time. I think the inner workings of an online encyclopedia are fascinating. Turns out other people do too. When I was a student here last year, I started moonlighting as a journalist explaining how a site this big gets made by volunteers. I wrote about how after Russia invaded Ukraine, downloads of Wikipedia skyrocketed in Russia as the state was limiting free press. Wikipedia is not perfect, but clearly it's an information source that people desire. Or when The Queen died, I wrote about the Wikipedia editor that was so quick to change her article into past tense.


I kept posting online, and I was getting a following, and I started leading editathons to get more people to contribute. Then I started doing comedy shows, and I was surprised to learn that one, I thought it was fun, but also people were excited to pay money to go to a show about an encyclopedia. I'm still really drawn to useless knowledge, like Diego, the tortoise who had so much sex that he saved his species. Let's have applause for him. Great. I'll let him know. But I really wouldn't call it useless knowledge. I don't think I would call anything useless knowledge because the thing about trivia is that it's an invitation to learn more about a subject. You might learn a trivia fact, and suddenly you're far more interested and you're learning about things you never thought were interesting before. Ken Jennings once said trivia was the bait on the fish hook of education. I previously had little interest in the romantic period of piano music. And then I learned that Frans List, he had such good looks and dramatic performances that these girls in the 1800s in Europe were getting diagnosed with something called List Fever because they were such fangirls.


Suddenly I'm interested in piano music history. Similarly, I didn't have a lot of interest in life in the 13th century. And then I learned about this boy named Anfim, and he was a six year old, and his random birch bark drawings were preserved. And he wrote things that you would see a six-year-old draw today, like these proclamations like, I am a wild beast. And his stick-figured drawings with too many fingers, they look like something that a six-year-old would draw today. It reminded me that for all of history, people have always been people. Sometimes with trivia, you start somewhere random, and then you start thinking about empathy and geopolitics and who knows, science, what have you. Facts are really powerful, even fun facts. Luckily, we live at a time where information has never been easier to access, whether you're looking for fictional worms or nonwater floods or more serious things like atmospheric carbon data. If nothing else, trivia reminds you that the world is huge and it's amazing and it's really interesting. And I don't think that's trivial at all. Prx.