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Ivy League University to Offer Class on ‘Wasting Time on the Internet’

·National Correspondent, Technology
Students working at computers
Students working at computers

The dude in the back is totally photobombing this stock photo. (Thinkstock)

Next semester, students at the University of Pennsylvania will have the option to enroll in a course that requires them to do what young people do best: waste hours and hours online.

Per the description of the Ivy League English course, officially titled “Wasting time on the Internet,” students will be asked to find meaning in the time they spend alone with a computer:

“Using our laptops and a wifi connection as our only materials, this class will focus on the alchemical recuperation of aimless surfing into substantial works of literature,” it reads. “Students will be required to stare at the screen for three hours, only interacting through chat rooms, bots, social media and listservs … Distraction, multi-tasking, and aimless drifting is mandatory.”

The course is headed by none other than Kenneth Goldsmith, a poet and professor whose previous projects include printing out all of the scholarly database JSTOR and also attempting to print the entire Internet. (He’s no friend of trees.)

“I’m very tired 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 times,” Goldsmith told Motherboard’s Jason Koebler, who first spotted the course offering.

Kenneth Goldsmith
Kenneth Goldsmith

Kenneth Goldsmith. (Wikipedia)

In practice, the course will play out a little like this: Students will spend a lot of time chatting with friends, watching YouTube videos, surfing Facebook, exploring Reddit, and, who are we kidding, skimming UPenn-specific BuzzFeed lists. Eventually, however, they’ll have to take the detritus from that time wasted — tweets, posts, photos, browser history, a painkiller prescription for their carpal tunnel — and turn it into “substantial works of literature.”

(Using Net surfing as a medium is actually a burgeoning field for some digital artists. My colleague Rob Walker has written about adaptations of classic dramas into iMessage, for example, as well as several artistic reinterpretations of different Google services.)

Parents picking up their kin’s $40,000-a-year tuition tabs shouldn’t worry: There will also be some reading. Specifically, pieces from authors famous for their meditations on “boredom and time-wasting.” Notables include John Cage, Betty Friedan, and Guy Debord.

So take note in case you want to audit the class from home. From behind your laptop. With Netflix blaring in the background. It’s all part of the curriculum.

Follow Alyssa Bereznak on Twitter or email her.