Wasting Time on the Internet, for Penn Credit

This had to happen eventually. Kenneth Goldsmith–the poet famous for wearing that suit to the White House in 2011–will teach a course at the University of Pennsylvania in the spring called “Wasting Time on the Internet.”

And this is no gimick title designed to hoodwink kids into signing up for some boring psychology elective. No, it really is a course about wasting time online.

As Goldsmith writes in the New Yorker:

Come January, fifteen University of Pennsylvania creative-writing students and I will sit silently in a room with nothing more than our devices and a Wi-Fi connection, for three hours a week, in a course called “Wasting Time on the Internet.” Although we’ll all be in the same room, our communication will happen exclusively through chat rooms and listservs, or over social media. Distraction and split attention will be mandatory. So will aimless drifting and intuitive surfing. The students will be encouraged to get lost on the Web, disappearing for three hours in a Situationist-inspired derive, drowsily emerging from the digital haze only when class is over. We will enter a collective dreamspace, an experience out of which the students will be expected to render works of literature. To bolster their practice, they’ll explore the long history of the recuperation of boredom and time-wasting, through critical texts by thinkers such as Guy Debord, Mary Kelly, Erving Goffman, Raymond Williams, and John Cage.

Nothing is off limits: if it is on the Internet, it is fair play. Students watching three hours of porn can use it as the basis for compelling erotica; they can troll nefarious right-wing sites, scraping hate-filled language for spy thrillers; they can render celebrity Twitter feeds into epic Dadaist poetry; they can recast Facebook feeds as novellas; or they can simply hand in their browser history at the end of a session and present it as a memoir.

InternetStuff

I suppose there really is something important to about understanding how we spend time online when we’re not doing anything productive. It really does take up a lot of our days. (Hey, if you’re reading this between roughly 10 am and 6 pm on a weekday you’re wasting time, too.)

Still, I’m little confused as to how the class works. Do students just sit in class and screw around on their laptops for three hours? That’s an awful lot of time. I think I might get bored with that. I guess students could edit Wikipedia articles.

It’s worth noting that Goldsmith is well experienced in offering counterintuitive ideas for academic credit. For a decade he’s taught a writing class where students are “forced to plagiarize, appropriate, and steal texts that they haven’t written and claim them as their own.“ For a final assignment he apparently makes students buy one of those sketchy essays written by people for money and then stand up in front of the class and pretend they wrote it.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer