Join a niche social network. When looking for stuff to do online, lots of people turn to Facebook and MySpace. These can be fun, but their thrill wears off fast—how much time, really, can you spend looking up your first-grade classmates?
Let me suggest some more specialized social nets—sites that hook you up with people just like you. Do you have a dog? Join Dogster: Create a profile for your pooch and chat with other owners about all that's going on in your dog days. If you knit, check out Ravelry, which has attracted tens of thousands of knitters who trade patterns, offer advice for getting through knotty problems, and critique one anothers' creations. There are also social networks for birders, people recovering from addiction, divorced women, and people living with chronic diseases. The über-social network Ning lets you create your own specialized network—you'll find user-created sites for Pentecostals, pagans, geeks, fans of New Kids on the Block, and others.
Some of these sites may sound a bit overnarrow; TechCrunch, for instance, is astonished that a knitting social network has taken off. But I know people who are absolutely addicted to the site, which makes sense—when you're in one of these target groups, meeting people who feel exactly as you do is a heady experience. It's what made the Web so great in the first place.
Play World of Goo. Over the last couple of years, while you were spending your late nights thinking of ways to turn out voters in Cleveland, the Web turned into a haven for addictive video games. Now irresistible little puzzlers are just a click away; they load up right in your browser without the need for installation—you can play them at work, in the hours you used to spend studying the polls at FiveThirtyEight.com.
I asked Scott Lamb, an editor at BuzzFeed who always seems to find the best games first, for suggestions. His recommendation: Fantastic Contraption, a fun physics game in which you draw little machines to move a ball from one place on the screen to another. (FC is similar to the long-dreamed-about game Crayon Physics Deluxe, which made its debut in a stunning YouTube video but isn't yet available for download.)
If you're a fan of tower-defense games—like the famous Desktop Tower Defense, in which you try to build a fortress against an onslaught of oncoming enemies—there are lots of derivatives for you to try, including Whiteboard Tower Defense and Bloons Tower Defense 3. Lamb also suggests Light-Bot and Chronotron, two games in which you play a robot trying to navigate a map; Light-Bot asks you to think like a computer programmer while Chronotron features a loopy bit of time travel reminiscent of the movie Primer.
But my favorite new time-waster is World of Goo, a physics-strategy game that's something of a cross between Legos, Super Mario Galaxy, and a Tim Burton movie. World of Goo is not a Web game; it sells for $20 and is available for PCs, Macs, and as a download for the Wii. To get a flavor of the game, download the PC-only preview Tower of Goo, in which you're charged with stacking elastic goo balls as they rain down the screen. World of Goo expands that mandate—there are different kind of goo balls (goo that explodes, goo that floats, goo that sticks), and you've got to arrange them into bridges and towers and huge machines that stretch and sag across a beautiful and bizarre hand-drawn landscape. Trust me: This is way more fun than frantically refreshing Pollster.com.