The news: While some of us make a living by mindlessly spending hours on the Internet, others need to be taught. To that end, next spring, the University of Pennsylvania is offering a class that's actually called "Wasting Time on the Internet."
Students will spend three hours a week GChatting, falling into a BuzzFeed listi-hole, stumbling into legally questionable sections of Reddit and fishing for retweets on Twitter. Even better, the syllabus says the only course materials required is a laptop with a Wi-Fi connection.
The class is taught by English professor Kenneth Goldsmith, an eccentric advocate of the Internet who wants to dissuade the notion that it's making us stupid.
"I'm very tried of reading articles in the New York Times every week that make us feel bad about spending so much time on the Internet, about dividing our attention so many ways," he told Motherboard. "I think it's complete bullshit that the Internet is making us dumber. I think the Internet is making us smarter. There's this new morality built around guilt and shame in the digital age."
Yes, there's a term paper: So, this all sounds alluring to waste time on the Internet, but there's a point to it. The syllabus asks if all those Facebook status updates and texting could be "used as raw material for creating compelling and emotional works" of literature. Essentially, is the Facebook profile the new autobiography?
Goldsmith's students will find out. They're going to gather all that "raw material" (their browsing history, screenshots, etc.) and write a paper about it. Goldsmith told the Washington Post that he'll enforce a "state of distraction" among his students to get the best possible outcome.
The distraction will induce his students "into a digital or electronic twilight," he said, comparing it to the dreaming and waking state that was coveted by 20th-century Surrealists.
Goldsmith explains that he wants his students to get a deeper understand of their not-so-mindless Internet surfing. Forcing his class to think about the so-called "wasted time" might prove that they're actually getting smarter from it.
Goldsmith sounds awesome: This is the man who once appeared in a pink suit on the Colbert Report. He's even wanted to print out the entire Internet because it's the "greatest poem ever written" but unreadable because of its massive size. He's penned 10 books about poetry and, last year, became the first poet laureate of the Museum of Modern Art.
Plus, thanks to the Internet, Goldsmith says we're are reading and writing more than ever. The stigma of sitting all day in front of the computer simply wasting away our brains is something he hopes to disprove.
"We're writing an enormous amount, but somehow the culture keeps devaluing that. I think, yes, this is real writing," he told Motherboard. "If we can claim that writing as poetry, [then] that alienation and guilt can be expunged and the writing can be celebrated. We can look forward to wasting time on the Internet instead of deriding it."
Finally, someone gets it.