“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”
― Neil Gaiman
As Mr. Gaiman cleverly suggests in the opening quote, the Internet is, like, a super-sea of information, and a whole lot of the information on the web is just . . . noise-content—i.e. irrelevant, undesired, vapid, and/or bite-sized content.
In the past I’ve contrasted online “noise” vs. “meaning,” arguing that creating/sharing more meaningful content—i.e. in-depth, thought-provoking, empathy-conjuring, educational, artistic, and/or humanistically/existentially illuminating stuff—might be an important and worthwhile thing to do.
That’s not to say that I never mindlessly browse Twitter, binge on Imgur memes, or stop by /r/notinteresting. I love the silly and willfully ephemeral nature of much of the web. But, I like to balance things out by absorbing a fair portion of deeper, intellectually and emotionally stirring stuff too—stuff that might “stand the test of time.”
Anyway, the thrust here is that I read a lot of essays and things and want to share a list of some of the best stuff I’ve read online to maybe increase the collective effervescence of our ape-noggins. Because more humans losing themselves in sustained contemplation can’t be anything but #fabulous, amiright?
1. The mental block by Michael Hanlon / AEON
Brief description: Beautiful essay arguing that the “Hard Problem”—i.e. the problem of understanding the origin and true nature of consciousness—isn’t going away.
2. Sex is sex. But money is money. by Svetlana Z / MEDIUM
Summary: A grippingly intimate look into the experience of one Russian ex-pat who came to America in search of opportunity and became a high-end escort.
3. The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence by Tim Urban / WAIT BUT WHY
Summary: Totally accessible, fantastic break-down of the technological progression toward advanced artificial intelligence and the potential implications of superintelligent computers.
4. The Trip Treatment by Michael Pollan / THE NEW YORKER
Summary: The best, most comprehensive essay I’ve read on the history of psychedelics-as-medicine, the present renaissance in psychedelic research, and the spiritual and mind-reconfiguring potentialities of psychedelic substances.
5. Antiwork — a radical shift in how we view “jobs” by Brian Dean / CONTRIBUTORIA
Summary: Terrific analysis of the modern work culture and its ideological underpinnings, as well as a fascinating manifesto for “antiwork,” a movement opposed to pointless drudgery.
6. On Police Brutality in America by Victor “KOOL A.D.” Vasquez / WONDERING SOUND
Summary: Candid, considered piece on the recent history of police brutality against minorities in the United States, the failings of the US justice system, and the possibility for a more equitable future.
7. Terence McKenna’s Memes by Tao Lin / VICE
Summary: Probably the Internet’s best introduction to the brilliant mind of American philosopher Terence McKenna (Lin’s entire series on McKenna for Vice is spectacular).
8. How to Do What You Love by Paul Graham
Summary: Classic essay of the Interwebz exploring what it means to “do what you love” and the complexity hidden beneath that tidy little phrase.
9. We Aren’t the World by Ethan Watters / PACIFIC STANDARD
Summary: Mega-interesting tale of how one UCLA grad student challenged the foundations of psychology and economics by revealing the Occident-centric nature of many/most findings in those disciplines.
10. Education is not the Answer by Dean Baker / JACOBIN
Summary: A short but poignant piece arguing that while improving the American education system is important, it will ultimately do little to remedy the deep-rooted systemic inequality that plagues the nation.
11. Off-beat Zen by Tim Lott / AEON
Summary: The best introduction I’ve found to the work of Alan Watts, Zen Buddhism, and the practical benefits of studying Zen.
12. Mr. X by Carl Sagan
Summary: Carl Sagan’s famous essay details his personal experience with cannabis and his convictions about cannabis’ benefits and advocates for legalization.
13. What is Science? by George Orwell
Summary: George Orwell’s wonderful essay argues that there is great danger in seeing scientists as men of pure reason who are less likely than other people to be biased in domains beyond their specialization.
14. Diary: In the Day of the Postman by Rebecca Solnit / LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS
Summary: Intriguing reflection on the technological changes of the last few decades, the seemingly ever-increasing speed of communication, and what it takes to re-discover slowness.
15. When “Life Hacking” is Really White Privilege by Jen Dziura / MEDIUM
Summary: A fresh take on “life hacking,” in which the author questions what role race might play in one’s ability to hurdle red tape and “hack” one’s way into socially exclusive situations.
16. Big Red Son by David Foster Wallace
Summary: Once upon a time, the incomparable David Foster Wallace attended the Adult Video News awards and wrote one of the most incisive and entertaining narrative accounts that the world has ever known.
17. I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet by Paul Miller / THE VERGE
Summary: Captivating account of one man’s quest to quit the Internet for a year and his reflections on what the experience taught him about the so-called Digital Age.
18. Endless love by Aaron Ben-Zeev / AEON
Summary: Tremendous essay focusing on how our conception of romantic love has changed in recent times and what it takes for profound love to last a lifetime.
19. The Tiger Cure by Gene Stone / NEW YORK MAGAZINE
Summary: A homosexual man reflects on the despair and confusion of navigating his sexual identity and how one woman—a sexual surrogate—eventually helped to liberate him from a cage of anxiety.
20. On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber / STRIKE!
Summary: An anthropology professor considers why John Maynard Keynes’ bold 1930 prediction—that technology would advance sufficiently by the end of the 20th century to allow countries like the US and Great Britain to achieve a 15-hour work week—did not come true.
21. The Parrot by Venkatesh Rao / RIBBON FARM
Summary: A detailed phenomenological report on numerous persons’ reactions to a white parrot in a bustling square that morphs into a reflection on the filters that prevent our minds from responding “authentically” to reality.
22. Escape to Earthship: building a home for the End of Days by Trent Wolbe / THE VERGE
Summary: A great piece of investigative journalism exploring Michael Reynolds’ “Earthships”—radically sustainable structures made from recycled materials—and the movement that has blossomed around them.
If you don’t use Pocket, you should. It’s a great app that I use all the time to quickly and easily save great essays like these in one place for future reading. Integrates with all devices.
If you liked these, you might want to follow me on Facebook, where I regularly share long-form reading material.