Websites That Feed Your Brain

June 12, 2011 11:46 PM

Athena holding an iPhone with the Harvard Business Review appWhen Al Gore invented the Internet (that was him, wasn’t it?) it seemed possible that this groundbreaking new technology would fundamentally alter the structure of society, creating a beautiful new world based on open communication, shared information, wisdom and intelligence.

It hasn’t necessarily worked out that way. Whatever your feelings on social media, funny cat videos, and Fred, it would be difficult to argue that they’re making us significantly smarter.

If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself on websites that don’t do much for the intellect. There’s nothing wrong with that – we all need to be entertained, and it’s fun to take a break from mental heavy lifting.

Still, the web is stuffed with sites that are thought provoking and mind-expanding. Here are a few of my favourite places to go when I want to be challenged and fatten up my brain with nourishing intellect food.

Arts & Letters Daily, set up by the recently deceased Dennis Dutton, is a treasure trove of links to brilliant and challenging articles and blog posts by some of the world’s foremost thinkers.

The site is simple in both design and concept: it’s a single page of text, with links to the day’s three selected articles at the top. But simple as it may be, reading the linked articles faithfully is like getting an idealized liberal arts education for free: your preconceptions will be challenged and your knowledge will expand each day.

Harvard Business Review Blogs
Hmmm…Business Review Blogs. It doesn’t sound very interesting, does it? But is a bottomless repository of fascinating ideas and opinions from some of the smartest men and women on the net.

The HBR Blogs go way beyond just business. Alongside pieces on how organizations work, the ethics of business and personal conduct, and tips on leadership and management, the site features brilliant musings on the challenges of being sustainable and environmentally sound, and tips on being personally organized for success.

As well as being very clever, a lot of the posts are honest and personal, offering insights gleaned from the kinds of successes and mistakes that all of us are familiar with.

The A.V. Club
Nerd alert! I admit it: The A.V. Club makes this list because I’m a gigantic pop culture addict and yes, uber-geek. But this site (a spin-off of the brilliant satirical newspaper The Onion) is full of thoughtful, clever takes on everything from the latest films and music to the cultural artifacts that made up our childhoods.

In our increasingly media-saturated age, it’s refreshing to find writers who can help us contextualize the constant noise that surrounds us and offer some perspective on our constant consumption. As an added bonus, the comments below each article have developed into a weird meta-textual absurdist playground, complete with unique rituals and inside jokes.

Seth Godin’s Blog
How can one guy post something new every single day, and yet consistently surprise, provoke, and inspire? I’ve gotten into the habit of reading Seth’s blog each day, and I think he’s as disciplined as he is for a couple of reasons: he’s very hard-working, and he takes his own advice.

That advice ranges from ideas for entrepreneurs to useful insights into the creative process. It’s usually delivered in easy-to-read, quick posts that tend to focus the mind and offer an inspiring reminder of why we do what we do. In fact, a lot of his posts read like common sense – but it’s amazing how easily we forget what we already know. Seth’s always there to remind us.
Now this is what the Internet’s supposed to be all about: the smartest people on the planet, sharing their ideas for free. The video talks on cover everything from science to entertainment. They tend to be pretty compact (fifteen minutes or so), and yet they pack a massive punch.

The basic idea is this: thinkers who have discovered something through their work give it away to the world. Free ideas. Free perspectives. A whole set of ideas that could change your life and open your mind. At no cost.

That’s what the Internet was supposed to be about, right?

What sites whet your brain’s appetite? Sound off in the comments below.


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