A laptop and Wi-Fi are the things required to enter the course Wasting time on the Internet, that is, if you decide to enrol at the University of Pennsylvania. I ought to say I thought this was a joke.
“Could we reconstruct our autobiography using only Facebook? Could we write a great novella by plundering our Twitter feed?”, is what is asked in the course description, and presumably is the idea that will be explored in (creative) writing.
The author of the course is Kenneth Goldsmith, a world known poet, the author of 10 books of poetry, and the books Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in a Digital Age, and Letter to Bettina Funcker. He is also the founding editor of UbuWeb, an online archive, and a senior editor of PennSound, an online poetry archive. He was appointed the Museum of Modern Art’s first Poet Laureate. Goldsmith is known for experimenting with artistic forms, both language and film. Below is one very interesting short video on the role of language Goldsmith created three years ago.
Although one may not question his expertise and modern approach to teaching, writing and art in general, this certainly calls for a discussion of the idea. What are those students going to explore, to learn?
“Students will be required to stare at the screen for three hours, only interacting through chat rooms, bots, social media and listservs.”
This news was first spotted by Motherboard, where the author had an opportunity to talk to Goldsmith about the course.
“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.” He explains that in a course they’re “trying to wrench an artistic product out of that state of distraction that’s naturally created by talking on the phone with someone and surfing the Internet at the same time, or by watching a video and chatting”.
“Electronic distraction and multitasking is the new surrealism—surrealists wanted to get unconscious, well, we’re doing that now all the time,” he emphasizes.
I have to agree with him that we do read and write more than ever before, but I do have to question the quality of what is read, and written. With short attention span, less than a minute to attract and keep a reader on the page, very common sensational approach to writing that tells nothing innovative or informative, and dominant visual communication, this is how most people read today. And what about everyday communication with friends? Wasting Time means different thing to different people, and it is good to explore a positive impact Internet can have on critical thinking. It is good to see how ways of communication have changed as if we all have our own language. Is it a waste of time to read YouTube comments?, that’s a good question. Perhaps, the work of famous critical thinkers of everyday lives, such as Erving Goffman, Guy Debord, Michel de Certeau, Stuart Hall and others will help with the idea.
All in all, the purpose of the course is to use the time spent online and try to create a work of art – “Could we re-frame the Internet as the greatest poem ever written?”. Can we use our subconscious and create surreal works of art?
This course is either going to show that the Internet has a great potential to employ everyday routines and turn them into a powerful writing, a work of art, “a poem”, or that chats, tweets and YouTube comments are a waste of time (although, sometimes, reading comments on YouTube is so much fun, though I am not sure if it’s a waste of time). One can always say that this was an interesting experiment about wasting time on the Internet.