Using clear, readable prose, conceptual artist and poet Kenneth Goldsmith’s manifesto shows how our time on the internet is not really wasted but is quite productive and creative as he puts the experience in its proper theoretical and philosophical context.
Kenneth Goldsmith wants you to rethink the internet. Many people feel guilty after spending hours watching cat videos or clicking link after link after link. But Goldsmith sees that “wasted” time differently. Unlike old media, the internet demands active engagement—and it’s actually making us more social, more creative, even more productive.
When Goldsmith, a renowned conceptual artist and poet, introduced a class at the University of Pennsylvania called “Wasting Time on the Internet”, he nearly broke the internet. The New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Slate, Vice, Time, CNN, the Telegraph, and many more, ran articles expressing their shock, dismay, and, ultimately, their curiosity. Goldsmith’s ideas struck a nerve, because they are brilliantly subversive—and endlessly shareable.
In Wasting Time on the Internet, Goldsmith expands upon his provocative insights, contending that our digital lives are remaking human experience. When we’re “wasting time,” we’re actually creating a culture of collaboration. We’re reading and writing more—and quite differently. And we’re turning concepts of authority and authenticity upside-down. The internet puts us in a state between deep focus and subconscious flow, a state that Goldsmith argues is ideal for creativity. Where that creativity takes us will be one of the stories of the twenty-first century.
Wide-ranging, counterintuitive, engrossing, unpredictable—like the internet itself—Wasting Time on the Internet is the manifesto you didn’t know you needed.
After describing one of his typical browsing sessions on the Web involving news articles, video clips from a Keith Richards interview, and a 1917 photo posted on Facebook of a full-size battleship being built in New York's Union Square, Goldsmith (Uncreative Writing), a poet and conceptual artist who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, asks: "Am I really wasting time on the Internet? This is important stuff that I've stumbled on to." His question launches this entertaining, vividly written investigation of the ways people interact with the web. Focusing in particular on the "smoldering wreckage of modernism," Goldsmith works to "extract clues on how to proceed in the digital age" from such disparate subjects as Marcel Duchamp, zombies, the Peanuts character Pig-Pen, Jorge Luis Borges's short story "The Library of Babel," and surrealist poets' fascination with public sleeping, along with an array of current theorists and artists. "Our devices might be changing us, but to say that they're dehumanizing us is simply wrong," he writes. Acute observations of how people actually use technology ground Goldsmith's far-flung explorations of data archiving, Photoshop, reappropriation, memes, and many other subjects. Though he dwells too long on a few areas and sometimes stretches to bring coherence to his sprawling discussions, Goldsmith maintains a sharp focus as he weaves together wildly diverse ideas, explaining new information clearly for a general audience.