Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “…In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
Had Benjamin Franklin lived in the 21st century, I think he would have mentioned a third certainty: death, taxes, and the indelible supremacy of cats on the Internet.
I’m not exactly sure how it came to pass, but it’s a widely known fact that cats rule the ‘net. More than 3.8 million cat videos and photos are shared every single day: cats sitting in boxes, cats curled on keyboards, cats fleeing in terror from cucumbers. No matter what hypnotic Internet wormhole you’re pulled in to, there’s probably going to be a cat at the end of it. That’s a lot of cats, and a lot of time.
Please don’t misunderstand me- I love cats. I have three of them. They aren’t famous, lucrative Internet cats (I’m not bitter) but they’re pretty okay anyway. They do all the crazy, hilarious things those rich famous cats do (again, no bitterness). But despite the innate awesomeness that is the feline species, we can do more with the Internet— and our time— than watch cats knock over babies. (Footnote: cats are also kind of mean.)
The Internet is a big place, so if you’ve forgotten what else it can offer besides a daily dose of cat antics, here are 3 websites to add enrichment to your life and help you take your Internet back from the cats:
When was the last time you read a book? If you can’t remember, or if the last book was an illustrated tome a la Goodnight Moon, it’s time to get reading again. I won’t make a lengthy case about the value of reading, because I think we already know why we should read books, even if we don’t make time for it. In short, books are vessels of insight and imagination that can change our world from the inside out. And added bonus, they also teach the lost art of distinguishing the difference between “Your” and “You’re.” Books are vital to understanding people, places, and things, and they deserve some of your time.
But taking the time to read an entire book can be hard-won in an age dominated by six-second Vine videos and 140-character tweets. Enter Project Gutenberg. This website is a database of over 53,000 digitized books that are free for the reading. You can easily search for favorite authors and classic titles, or browse through popular genres to find your next read. A Kindle is not required, nor is a sign-up— you can read these volumes on the Internet, on your phone or e-reader, or download them to you desktop with no strings attached. With free, virtual books at your fingertips any time you’re online, you have zero reasons for not devoting just as much time to reading as you do to Facebook. From Austen to Vonnegut to Conan Doyle, the Project Gutenberg database is constantly growing— something we should all endeavor to do.
This is one Internet wormhole you could get lost in for days, and not regret a minute of it. Internet Archive is a massive online collection of texts, videos, audio, software, and images from past and present day. In one site you can: listen to old time radio programs, decades of music, or books on tape; watch vintage cartoons, movies, and commercials; read countless texts catalogued in libraries around the world; page through cover art, map collections, or photos from NASA; and the list goes on. It is online education for the curious, the nostalgic, and the short attention-spanned.
And I’ve saved the best for last: you can play thousands; yes thousands, of classic video and computer games from your childhood in the Software Archive! Super Mario Bros, Atari games, and the OREGON TRAIL are all available. If nothing else, take a few minutes to relive the wonder that was 2D gaming— because it’s been far too long since the last time you died of dysentery.
Atlas Obscura goes a little against the grain of Internet use, in that after using the site you really should get off the Internet and go outside. By plugging your zip code and some keywords (chosen by you) in to the website’s search bar, Atlas Obscura will generate a list of obscure and often amazing places near your location that you probably didn’t even know existed. It’s possible that abandoned ruins, historic buildings, or natural attractions are right next door, waiting to be explored. In my searching I managed to find not one but FOUR creepy ghost towns within 90 minutes of my home. (Maybe it’s time to move.) If you love travel, history, or anything out of the ordinary, your time will be richly rewarded by the things you discover on this site.
In addition to its fascinating search feature, Atlas Obscura also provides countless travel guides for popular destinations and stories of interest from around the world. If you’re a modern adventurer seeking new, hidden locales to explore— or if you like to sit in your room and zoom in on weird stuff on Google Earth— this website is a gateway to exploring the world off the beaten path.
BONUS: The Useless Web: http://www.theuselessweb.com/
If you’re really looking to waste time online without gleaning any educative value or rewarding experience from your cyberspace ventures, The Useless Web is the must-see Internet event of the year because it’s literally useless. With the single click of a button, you’ll be transported to a randomly generated, completely unnecessary website. Need a site to generate passive aggressive passwords? It exists. Looking for a photo of artfully arranged corndogs? You may find it here. My favorite waste-of-time site so far is a little page called Shower Thoughts, with such deeply-mined gems as, “Spoons are basically tiny shovels.” It’s a real Internet treasure.
The Useless Web is truly a mindless surf through webpages that make you question why anyone thought of them, let alone put forth the effort to create them. Much like a bad Nicholas Cage movie, it’s oddly annoying and addicting at the same time.
There will always be cats on the Internet. They reign sovereign over videos and memes. But they aren’t the “be all, end all” of online domain— even though they’d probably like us to think so. The next time you browse the Internet, pause the feline newsfeed and turn your browsing time into an enriching experience!
Lindsay Merkel is a freelance writer and introvert extraordinaire. The native Pennsylvanian also enjoys outdoor exploration, has a penchant for extreme organizing, and can always be found with a book in at least one hand. Connect with her on Twitter (but don’t interrupt her while she’s reading).