"Apparently This Matters" is CNN Tech's weekly skewed look at social media
This week, Jarrett Bellini dives down the wormhole of Wikipedia's "Random Article" tool
Czech hockey player Jiri Ondracek was the random page
What followed? Czech history, metric equations and, gladly, no Nickelback
Editor’s Note: Each week in “Apparently This Matters,” CNN’s Jarrett Bellini applies his warped sensibilities to trending topics in social media.
When I have spare time, one of my favorite ways to be of little-to-no use to society is going on Wikipedia and harnessing the power of the “Random Article” button. It’s basically magic. You click it and it pulls up just one entry from among tens of millions. And sometimes it even has facts!
Wikipedia’s unofficial motto: “Sure … what that guy wrote.”
As the name implies, when you click for a random article, you never know what you’re going to get. It’s random. But it’s always the start of a fascinating ride down the giant time-wasting wiki wormhole where, as you click on more and more associated articles, an hour later you find you’ve somehow gone from, say, learning about electromagnetic radiation to reading up on Guns N’ Roses.
And then you eventually leave the wormhole because your brain has gone far too long without porn or cat videos.
So, anyway, this week, for a little change of pace, instead of writing about a trending topic in social media, I’m going to click the “Random Article” button just once and write about the very first thing that pops up. No matter what it is. Because, you know, if it’s on Wikipedia, it matters. Sort of.
OK, here we go. “Give me a click, Vasily. One click only, please.”
And our topic is: Jiri Ondracek!
According to Wikipedia, Ondracek is a 24-year-old professional ice hockey player from Havirov, Czech Republic. Which is nowhere near Pittsburgh. I looked it up. You’re welcome.
Now, if you’re not a hockey fan, please don’t turn away. I promise I won’t make this all about sports. The whole point of exploring random articles is to see where the wormhole takes you on the Web, to learn about new things and hopefully not end up watching a Nickelback video on YouTube. (The horror. The horror.)
So let’s learn!
A quick visit to his team’s website doesn’t reveal anything overly interesting about Ondracek other than the fact that he’s a forward who’s 185 centimeters tall and weighs 82 kilograms. I’m an American so, clearly, I have no idea what the hell that means. For all I know he’s 5 feet 3 inches and built like a Buick. Or as they call that on Internet dating sites: “Curvy.”
So, I used Google’s metric converter and learned that he’s actually about 6 feet tall and weighs roughly 180 pounds. Which sounds just about right for a real professional hockey player. By contrast, I played one season of club hockey my freshman year in college, but was 5 feet 9 inches and built like a malnourished fifth-grader. So I quit, took up sleeping in as my new club sport and decided to concentrate on pork rinds.
I became: “Curvy.”
But back to Ondracek. His current team hails from the town of Zlin, which is in the southeastern part of the Czech Republic. It’s OK. You’re allowed to not know where it is. So do look at that map. And maybe even plan a visit. Zlin actually sounds rather interesting.
In 2007, New York Times writer William Shaw called Zlin “an architectural gold mine” and mentioned that people used to joke about it being “a piece of America, somehow misplaced here in the Czech Republic.”
The architectural history of Zlin has roots in America, and dates back to the larger vision of a local shoemaker in the early 1900s. His name was Tomas Bata and, according to the article, he made several discovery trips to the United States, and even toured Ford factories to learn more about the intricacies of mass production.
Bata came away from his visits to America with big ideas (and probably high cholesterol), and set forth to not only mass-produce his shoes, but to also mass-produce buildings specifically designed to enhance the lives of his workers. Schools. Housing. Hospitals. Maybe even a Denny’s and a VD clinic. Just the basics.
But Bata wanted to do it in style. So, the article says, he enlisted the help of some of Europe’s most radical architects.
“Tell me, Sven. What do you envision for the hospital?”
“No walls. Just fresh air. And we’ll surround the exterior with open flames to symbolize the warmth of healing.”
“Right. How about just a fancy door.”
Eventually, Bata’s dream fizzled, but most of the buildings made it through the great wars and are still intact today. Thus, the “architectural gold mine.”
Though, if you’re Ondracek, Zlin is probably just some place where you now play hockey. Nothing more. And that brings us right back where we started. The “Random Article” button. We began with a relatively unknown Czech hockey player and ended up learning about how an enterprising shoemaker influenced the architecture of an entire city – just a short example of the wiki wormhole.
And the best part: No Nickelback!
(Warning! Do not click this.)