It's well documented that our attention spans are shrinking. For millennials, the damage is clear; whether we're tweeting 140-character story arcs or scrolling through a never-ending stream of GIF lists, we're consuming more information than ever in forms so "digestible" that they almost have no consequence on our thinking at all.
Enter Quora: the best way to waste time on the Internet without wasting brain cells.
For anyone who's ever wished that the Internet were a free-flowing exchange of information among interesting, intelligent, thoughtful and open-minded individuals, Quora is the site for you. At its most basic level, Quora is an online community for questions and answers. But it's also "an internet-scale library of Alexandria," according to Co-Founder Adam D'Angelo. The site traffics in knowledge.
Founded by D'Angelo and Charlie Cheever (both former Facebook employees), the site was designed to fill the gaping hole in the question-and-answer sector of the Internet universe. Similar sites existed, but none of them were reliable; their answers were of low quality, and it was never clear who was responding to a question, or what exactly made that person qualified to do so. And because most question-and-answer sites allowed its users veils of anonymity, there was no ability to personalize the information to reflect differing perspectives.
When Quora unveiled its beta version in 2010, the site was only open to 100 well-qualified users including famous politicians, doctors, start-up kings, tech whizzes, professors and finance gurus; the more reputable the community, the more high quality the content. And by the time Quora rolled out the site to its main body of users, the standard had been set.
There is a beautiful kumbaya element inherent to Quora, because it feels so human.
The site claims to cover 450,000 topics, and questions and answers on Quora have largely proved to be thoughtful and well-structured. Writers on the site remain true to their identities — no matter how well-established — fostering a sense of community in which responders can confidently draw from their silos of knowledge to better inform a person asking a sincere question, like "When a person completely loses an eye, what is done with the vacant space?"
Quora is a democratic — and quasi-utopian — platform where everyone can be heard. There is a beautiful kumbaya element inherent to the site, because it feels so human. It feels like interacting with a very interesting, engaged person in real life at a proverbial dinner table.
Topics of discussion run the gamut, from the existential ("What would you do if you could do anything for eight hours a day for the rest of your life, assuming money was no object?") to the esoteric ("Is there any redundancy in human memory?" and "What are some lesser known/interesting stories in the Mahabharata?") to the practical ("What are some good hacks for dealing with other peoples' loud crying babies on long flights?").
At its most idealistic, the Internet is a place of peaceful collaboration and the coexistence of billions of ideas, exchanged and transmitted across great geographic and social distance. The Internet as we know it is not this way, of course, but sites like Quora can be.
As our minds inevitably become more and more accustomed to flitting from one thing to the next, our short attention spans practically mandate multitasking. And if it's expected —perhaps even essential — for us to have periodic breaks in our work flow, if we're inevitably going to have multiple tabs open at once, shouldn't those tabs at least be as informative and thought-provoking as Quora?
We need to ask questions. We need to solicit answers. We need to take steps to understand the world, instead of clicking through slideshows on the top 10 foods you didn't know had negative calories. We need to lifehack our tabs. Quora is intelligent, intellectual social networking for all of the questions Google can't answer.