The Case for Learning Something Useless Right Now

Online classes can help you cope

Angela Lashbrook
Published in
6 min readMay 11, 2020


An older man learning guitar by watching an online tutorial on his tablet.
Photo: Alistair Berg/DigitalVision/Getty Images

In Microprocessing, columnist Angela Lashbrook aims to improve your relationship with technology every week. Microprocessing goes deep on the little things that define your online life today to give you a better tomorrow.

This might end up being the nerdiest story I’ve ever written, which is a tough contest since I’ve written about my devotion to spreadsheets, my love for my vacuum, and why Americans should consider investing in fancier toilets. Today, though, I reveal my deepest, darkest secret.

I love to learn.

I freaking love it. If I were really rich, I’d be in school forever, getting degrees in art history, literature, religion, folklore, and creative writing. I want to know more about Artemisia Gentileschi and how she uses paint to convey terror and triumph in Judith and Holofernes, or about how local legends and fairy tales manifest in regional practices of Christianity, or about daily life of women, children, and families in ancient cities all over the world.

While a lifetime of gathering degrees like a bouquet of flowers is next to impossible without a trust fund, there are alternatives that require a lot less of your finances, your energy, and your time: online classes. This isn’t about spending every minute of your life bettering yourself so you can move up the career ladder or make more money or whatever. Simply learning for the sheer joy of it is a worthy project — and an excellent way to pass the time. It’s a way to keep the despair over the coronavirus crisis, at least some of it, at bay.

Research has shown that learning, in general, is good for you, and a 2007 study looking at the impact of online education on the mental well-being of adults older than 55 found that taking online classes improved the well-being and healthy cognitive aging of participants. A 2013 study on older adults found similar results, though it focused on two types of classes in particular — quilting and digital photography. The study found that learning new skills in quilting and photography engages working and long-term memory better than, say, doing crossword puzzles.



Angela Lashbrook

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.