Why Colleges are Requiring Students to Waste Time for Credits

ubuntu-910-browser-internetYou might think some of your current classes are a “waste of time,” but what would you think if you were paying for a course that, quite literally, required you to waste your time? The activity that most college students equate with procrastinating their homework – wasting time mindlessly clicking link after link on the internet – has now become their homework in itself.

A new English course at the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school, is being offered called “Wasting Time on the Internet” and it studies exactly that. Not only is it being offered, but it’s actually a requirement for all students majoring in Creative Writing at the prestigious university.

A lot of the coursework is what a veteran of internet surfing might expect it to be: staring at the screen for three hours, interacting with others only through social media and other virtual communication. No interruptions are to be had by real-life friends. To accompany this, though, there is some real homework to be done – some intense reading on the history of boredom and time-wasting and critical discussions about affect theory, situationism, and everyday life will contribute to the students’ grades.

So what is the goal, here? Why would a professor force his or her students to do what they’re likely already doing? According to the course description, these time-wasting activities, such as “clicking, SMSing, status-updating, and random surfing,” will be “used as raw material for creating compelling and emotional works of literature.” When you think about the questions professor Kenneth Goldsmith hopes to encourage his students to answer: “Could we reconstruct our autobiography using only Facebook? Could we write a great novella by plundering our Twitter feed?” – it’s actually easy to see how this fits into a literature course.

Just like William S. Burroughs wrote about using drugs, the course is encouraging students to write in a way that’s honest about the world they live in. Their finished pieces won’t be the first of their kind – after all, artists like Tao Lin, Megan Boyle, and Sam Pink have already written entire works focused around GChat and Twitter. It’s just a way of using the way we live to create art, which is what all of the greats have been doing for centuries, and forcing ourselves to reconsider the way we think about using the Internet and dealing with boredom.

A lot of students might be eager to take the course since they think they’ll already be great at it – but it seems there’s a lot to be learned from it.