Monday, December 10, 2012

Five Intelligent Ways to Get Lost on the Internet

Here’s my official message: don’t waste time on the internet.

Of course, even while I’m writing this sentence, I have up four irrelevant tabs, along with itunes. I’ve spent more time on Facebook today than I’m willing to admit to myself. And I know for a fact that I will be back on Facebook before this post is over.

Everyone needs a break from work sometimes, and the infinite procrastination potential of the internet can be too tempting to overlook. The question is, then, how do you use an internet break productively?

Here are five websites which are educational and informative, but also interesting enough to give you the kind of break you need. Some of these are more popular than others, and you may be familiar with one or more of them. Hopefully this list will lead you to something both fun and helpful.

Open Culture

This website has a little bit of everything culture-related: interviews, full movies, online courses, art news, audiobooks, and more. You can find a musical collaboration between Kurt Cobain and author William S. Burroughs, a conversation between Quentin Tarantino and Howard Stern, a video based on a poem by Charles Bukowski, or a real-time simulation of births and deaths in the United States. If you have any highly specific interests—classical cinema, science-fiction, modern jazz—or if you’re hungry to learn more about culture, this site will keep you occupied.


Are you someone who prefers to take a break with games instead of text and videos? Try Lumosity, which features games designed to boost specific intellectual abilities. Lumosity will try to get you to take a “course,” which “assigns” games according to your apparent skill level. Unfortunately, you can only get so far in a course without paying a fee. Fortunately, most of the games by themselves are completely free.

Real Clear Politics

Here’s something for those people who don’t care so much about art or memory-boosting, but who know more about the members of the U.S. senate than they know about their own family. Real Clear Politics compiles political opinion and editorial pieces from all major news sources across the country. It’s a great way to check the pulse of the nation, to keep yourself informed, and also to make yourself really angry when you encounter an opinion with which you disagree. The site itself is pretty poorly designed, but its disorganization is helpful, in a way. It forces you to glance at articles and opinions you would never encounter otherwise.


Radiolab is a science-based radio show on NPR, so not surprisingly the most interesting feature of the Radiolab website is its podcasts. Although the radio show is an hour long, the podcasts are broken into ten minute segments for the benefit of the efficient procrastinator. If you’re not already familiar with Radiolab, it’s far more entertaining than whatever you imagined when you read “science-based radio show.” The hosts, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, do captivating and innovative things with audio while telling fascinating-but-true stories about science: a crustacean which can see thousands of colors invisible to us, a 27-year-old man with no concept of language, a computer program which may prove that we are near the end of science.

Open Yale Courses

This one is more of a time commitment than the others. Yale University has posted several of its lecture courses on this site for free. Each lecture is approximately an hour long, and each course is approximately 20 lectures. Still, if you have the time, you may be surprised at how engaging some of these lectures are. My personal favorites are the Civil War course with David Blight and the American Revolution course with Joanne Freeman: Blight and Freemen are powerful speakers and they tackle their subjects with the kind of detailed knowledge I’ve never seen in a history class before. If history isn’t your thing, there are also courses on physics, economics, music, architecture, religious studies, economics, psychology, and more.

So next time you find yourself surfing aimlessly, try out one of these sites. Even if you don’t like them, maybe they’ll lead you to something else that’s both entertaining and educational. At any rate, it’s probably a better use of time than Twitter.

Have a great day! 

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