If you wanted to learn a new language in the past, you used to buy expensive courses at local schools or at a Rosetta Stone kiosk in the mall. But language learning has become a community on the internet, and as its members share tips, they’ve mostly exposed the old methods for not delivering on their promises. And now the community is building new ones. You can trade digital flashcards for language study on Anki. Or you can connect with language learners across the world on italki.com and HelloTalk. There you can use the internet’s powers to hire native speakers to tutor you over Skype. Or you can do something even more powerful for language learning: Make friends in your target language. You can trade a half hour of your English for a half hour of another person’s Mandarin or Tagalog.
The flurry of exchange of ideas within hobby communities on the internet leads to faster innovation and real life creativity. Here’s another example (and yes, this too is from my life): In the past decade, as computer companies phased in cheaper, lighter keyboards that use plastic domes, fans of the older type of keyboards, the ones with mechanical switches, started to find each other on the internet. Six years ago this little group of enthusiasts was mostly exchanging reviews of the few niche keyboards that were of the older type. But the speed at which these enthusiasts were able to trade information allowed a whole world of hobbyist knowledge to open up. Now new manufacturers serving even smaller niches are emerging out of the hobbyist community itself. People who post on Reddit or Deskthority develop the passion and expertise to become small-batch manufacturers, creating new products with input from customers who are more like peers and friends. Like mid-century modern design? There is a minimalist keyboard for you. Like to spread your hands in a new ergonomic layout? There are plenty of options. Or you can print parts at a CD printing center and build your own.
In fact these message boards can become a kind of way out of distraction.