BY: AYA TSINTZIRAS
“Wasting Time on the Internet” is the name of a class being offered by the English department at the University of Pennsylvania. The course will be three hours long and all in-class communication will take place on social media, listservs and chat rooms. As the course description says, “Distraction, multi-tasking and aimless drifting is mandatory.” Interestingly, the class is required for creative writing majors, but only an elective for English majors.
Because this is U Penn, there is some method behind the cool-sounding course: as Professor Kenneth Goldsmith explains on the site, “this class will focus on the alchemical recuperation of aimless surfing into substantial works of literature.” Students will look at the nature of boredom and will read texts that explore theories such as situationism (the belief that outside factors motivate behavior) and affect theory (the belief that affects grouped in separate categories are connected by responses—for example, the affect of happiness results in a smile). Goldsmith seems like the right kind of person for a creative class like this: an acclaimed poet, he is the author of ten books of poetry and was invited to read his work at a White House event in 2011. He previously taught a class called “Uncreative Writing” that analyzed concepts in artistic fields like avatars and forgery.
Maybe this course is just an intellectual way of dealing with the fact that students bring laptops to class and don’t always pay attention to the material being discussed. It’s no secret that when you look at the Macbook screens in a crowded lecture hall, a large portion of students will be logged onto Facebook.
This course could definitely foster creativity. It’s the Internet equivalent of going for a walk in order to brainstorm. I can’t help but wonder what makes something a waste of time, anyway. I enjoy watching certain reality TV shows and my guilty pleasure is cheesy made-for-TV holiday movies. Who defines when time is being wasted?
Sometimes we just need to do something for the pure joy of it.
So maybe if we can reclaim Facebook scrolling, aimless Googling, and going through our Twitter feeds for the 100th time today as something positive, instead of feeling guilty, we could just call it “the alchemical recuperation of aimless surfing” and embrace procrastination with opened arms. You never know what you might stumble upon.