“Through their excess Adam and Eve discovered something essential about their own nature that was, perhaps, more than they had wanted to know; that they were, unlike the other animals in the garden, transgressive creatures. […] where there are excessive acts there are excessive uncertainties.”
Adam Philipps, Five Short Talks on Excess
Have you ever found yourself sitting in a class, unable to properly understand what is going on? In an effort to keep up, you google something, hoping that it was in fact what the professor said—open the Wikipedia page on the topic, skimming over the headings with no sense of anticipation. Somehow, though, the crowdfunded website ends up doing a better job of retaining your treacherous attention than the professor. At a point you can’t quite put your finger on, disinterest transforms into a hungry consumption of knowledge. Your desire to know more only grows with each second, with the bright blue links calling to you for reasons that are unfathomable yet uncared for. That, my friend, is the Wikipedia Wormhole ™ (I’m hoping this phenomenon is not trademarked already, but I’m afraid to google it, afraid of never finishing this piece because of Wikipedia).
The Wikipedia Wormhole ™ is a never-ending spiral, a journey really, that one embarks on when perusing one (1) Wikipedia page and clicking embedded links, then more embedded links, and then some more. These hours of reading allow for us to explore a new realm of fascinatingly obscure topics. There’s something so alluring about small bits of information rather than paying attention to work that you're supposed to do. Being able to pull out random facts at dinner is so much more exciting than reciting information you are expected to know anyway.
Embarking on this journey is promised to be exciting—nail biting—and proves to be one of the best ways to procrastinate everything else on that pesky to do list. As I proceed through the Wikipedia Wormhole ™ of my own making, relishing in the abandon of procrastination, I dramatize the stages of being caught within it:
The Initial Descent into the wormhole is like stepping onto a carnival ride. You start innocently enough, searching for the capital of France, but before you know it, you're hurtling through cyberspace at the speed of light. A rollercoaster for your brain — one moment, you're learning about the mating habits of the Brazilian tree frog, and the next, you're deep into the creation of the humble potato chip. You can start by reading about ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and somehow end up on a page about Mars Cheese Castle. You pass by articles on quantum physics, medieval torture devices, and the history of disco roller skating—all while desperately trying to remember why you came here in the first place. It's a wild ride filled with unexpected twists and turns, and just when you think you've had enough, you spot a link to pigeon racing and realize you're in for the long haul.
Lost in the Abyss: Getting lost in the depths of the online is like being led through a mystical library by a somewhat pissed-off celestial librarian. You start with a simple quest to learn about ancient Rome, but suddenly you're knee-deep in articles about the Norwegian claim on paperclips, the politics of garden gnomes, and types of edible mushrooms. It's a place where time seems to evaporate, and before you know it, you've missed three meals, your cat lingers beside you, fearing for her life because who will feed her now? However, all you can think about is knowing the names of every third-tier 80s sitcom character. You've officially gone off the map of materiality, and the Wikipedian abyss is your new home sweet home.
Clawing Out: Escaping the Wikipedia Wormhole ™ is like trying to claw your way out of a quicksand pit of trivia. You kept promising yourself that you'll read just one more article, but it’s been time-you-don’t-recall and you're in so deep that the end feels like a mythical creature whose shape you can’t quite remember. You've ventured from the production of baking soda to the cultural significance of rubber ducks, and now you're desperately searching for the exit strategy. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it's obscured by a tantalizing link to materials used to make kitchen sinks. It's a battle of willpower, and your mouse pointer is your trusty grappling hook. With each click, you inch closer to daylight, and you emerge victorious, disheveled, and armed with the knowledge that you can, indeed, conquer the Wikipedian beast.
a note from diya
I think the only way to justify this piece is to explain how I’ve come to write this in the first place. The pitch started out as something about my first summer internship, and how Wikipedia was a small but striking part of the experience. As I started fleshing out the piece amidst a turbulent time in my personal life — fighting with the RH-2 warden, starting and leaving three Tuesday-Thursday 11:50 courses — my life and this article literally became a wormhole. It led to an aha! moment for me, reminding me how Wikipedia had somehow become a haven away from work for me in the summer. I didn’t know that I needed this distraction from my life momentarily.
a note from sukriti
Despite being witness to the manner in which this article has moved from bulleted frustration to a cyclical excess on the path to a perfect formulation, I could not have fathomed that it would become a tale of the editing process — how, sometimes, when the Editors of the Arts and Culture Department can’t write, they decide to write about their not-writing. When three-fourths of Diya’s final first draft finally reached me (the last quadrant stuck in the immobility of its own echoes), all I could think about was how the article had become a story of its own writing, and it became crucial that we acknowledge it. There are critical questions left unexplored herein: why is the new, unsought and unknown excessively enticing? What makes snippets more fun to read (and perhaps write) than eight-hundred-word comprehensions and analyses of a Topic well-researched? The Wormhole™ narrated in the article had to be moved out of the writing’s earshot. For the piece had to be read and looked at by someone who saw more than the minutiae of the first two exhausting weeks at this university, to feel its incompleteness and attempt to delineate it. Less fascinatingly, I moved from editor to co-writer as a result of my own attempts to avoid writing a paper I could’ve finished two months ago. Thus, this particular work of writing is perhaps less an Article, more an indulgence evoked by the coming together of two wandering minds in a rather strange manner.