Next year, at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania, a group of students will screw around online. Between lectures on thinkers like John Cage and Betty Friedan, they'll be asked to browse the likes of Tumblr or Twitter and hopefully, by they end of the semester, they'll have something meaningful to say about it all.
The class, bluntly titled "Wasting Time on the Internet," was conceptualized and will be taught by the polarizing poet Kenneth Goldsmith, who's known for appropriating—or "plagiarizing" if you're a stuffy college professor—previously existing text in his own work (That's him above). Once, he gave a poetic reading of New York City traffic reports to a baffled audience at the White House, and another time, he tried to print out the entire internet.
Goldsmith says he hopes the distraction will place his students "into a digital or electronic twilight," similar to the state of consciousness between dreaming and waking that was so prized by the Surrealists.
"We do it, but we're not really thinking about what we are doing," Goldsmith says of digital distraction. Forcing students to think about all that "wasted" time might change assumptions about the worth of cycling through endless Reddit posts. "I'm so tired of reading, every time you pick up a paper, on how bad the Web is," he says.
The conventional wisdom is that all that Internet time is making us as a society stupider. "I don't think that's true," Goldsmith says. "I think the Internet is making us smarter."
It may sound like artsy-fartsy intellectualization, but wasting time on the internet can be a solid, pragmatic career path as well. It worked for me and the rest of the Gawker staff, anyway.
[Image via Wikimedia]