Recently, New York Times reporter Quentin Hardy published the article “Wasting Time on the Internet” about a class that was taught at the University of Pennsylvania. According to the article, students would “probe the tedium of the Internet.” The class description on Penn’s own website, “distraction, multi-tasking and aimless drifting are mandatory.” At first glance, this class really does seem like a waste of time and money. Is it really?
As the class progressed the students became more and more creative in their interactions with each other, according to the article. This could be seen as a natural byproduct of too much free time – but is that a bad thing, and should it be incorporated into an undergraduate-level college course?
Let’s take a closer look at the class description: “To bolster our practice, we’ll explore the long history of the recuperation of boredom and time-wasting through critical texts about affect theory, ASMR, situationism and everyday life by thinkers such as Guy Debord, Mary Kelly, Erving Goffman, Betty Friedan…” and the list of personalities goes on.
Now, wait just a minute! This class seems to combine a study of academic texts with the elements of a lab. These students are studying and analyzing how the micro culture of their own class evolves when they are allowed to access an enormous swath of information with no clear or practical use for it. It’s an isolated study of Internet culture.
This class is not just about Internet culture, but how it seeps out into everyday life and affects modern culture today. Look no further than regular television programming to see how Internet culture has seeped into popular media.
Ellen DeGeneres frequently has digitally altered images reminiscent of image macros, and on slow news days local news stations report on videos of adorable animals.
As social media becomes more and more engrained in everyday life, the sharing and reposting of “memes” has become an acceptable pastime – once the exclusive realm of idle middle-aged neckbeards lodging in their mothers’ basements. The phenomenon of meme formation and propagation is easily the best example of what happens when a large number of people with nothing better to do and have access to a large amount of information.
So this class, “Wasting Time on the Internet,” is it really just that? The advent of the Internet signaled a fundamental change in the way people communicate and the con-tent of those communications.
It would seem that the academic study of something that has such a profound effect on our culture, present and future, is hardly a waste of time.