I didn’t believe it a few years ago, but social media addiction is real. Or, at least, I believed that I was above addictions (except, perhaps, for coffee). But that was when I still used a flip-phone, given to me by my frugal parents. Ever since I got my first smartphone several years ago, I noticed a sharp drop in my attention span, and a chronic itch to reach for that black-mirrored device in my purse. Except when truly engrossed in a page-turner or moving film, that need to check–whether for a notification, my Facebook feed, or a text–is always there. Sometimes I catch myself and realize I have become too dependent, too addicted, and I have to wean myself off again for my own sanity and dignity. I try to find a restaurant without Google Maps, I tell myself that if that text was an emergency, they’d call; I remind myself that my phone is only a tool, miraculous an invention as it is, and only a fool lets her tool use her, rather than the other way around.
But I am not about to suggest that we burn our phones and delete all our social media accounts. As much as I have found social media to be a source of angst, addiction, and mind-numbing distraction, it has also thrown open a great window into the world. For a while now, I have been on the hunt for treasures on the Internet, sources that make the World Wide Web worthy of its intellectual and informational potential. Just as television was quickly overwhelmed by junk and advertisements, so the Internet became saturated with fast-food for the mind–and yet in both mediums, you will find some of the most moving, memorable stories and images humanity can produce.
This short list is the beginning of that treasure hunt, of places on the web worthy of reading with a cup of coffee, a loved one, and the delightful sound of rain on a Sunday morning. When you have that itch to reach for your phone, again, again, and again, visit one of these sites instead–they are this generation’s counter to the hijacking of the independent human mind.
Bulgarian bibliophile Maria Popova has created a quirky, intellectually stimulating, soulful haven with her blog, Brain Pickings. The cheery, yellow-themed blog “picks the brains” of scientists, poets, artists, and thinkers throughout time, culling their wisdom and visions into one of the Internet’s most precious libraries. Rather than collecting more information, Ms. Popova has collected beautiful ideas, for those needing a moment of perspective, inspiration, or serenity. Read more about the remarkable Ms. Popova here.
British Philosopher Alain de Botton has created a whole industry out of The School of Life, including a YouTube “How to Live” series, shop, and conferences that teach the importance of emotional intelligence in business settings. However, his website-turned-book, “The Book of Life,” is truly special, offering chapters and pages of guidance and reassurance with nary an advertisement in sight. The raspberry and blush layout is clean, minimalistic, pure–hand-drawn icons create a sense of home, which embraces you as you begin reading one of the kindly philosopher’s articles on the self, overcoming difficult childhoods, love, or take a quiz to better understand which careers might fulfill you. Listen to a couple of videos and I doubt you will hear anything but Mr. Botton’s baritone, consoling voice whenever you return to the Book of Life.
One of the most varied, beautiful, and delightful online magazines, science magazine Nautilus combines aesthetics, science journalism, and a wonderful dose of the humanities all at once. The layout is stunning, the writing impeccable, and the stories always fascinating and surprising. Nautilus is like a box of chocolates… you never know what you’re gonna get, but it will be delicious all the same.
Perhaps one of the most whimsical places on the Internet, Atlas Obscura is an online collection and digital map of the world’s most interesting, unusual, unknown places. The featured locations are fun enough to read about on their own, but the site’s mission is to get people to leave their house and rediscover wonder. Their recently published atlas of the same name makes a unique and precious gift–reminding us that the windows of our media are, after all, meant to beckon us to venture out into the world.