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the Complete Review
the complete review - internet

Wasting Time on the Internet

Kenneth Goldsmith

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To purchase Wasting Time on the Internet

Title: Wasting Time on the Internet
Author: Kenneth Goldsmith
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2016
Length: 235 pages
Availability: Wasting Time on the Internet - US
Wasting Time on the Internet - UK
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Wasting Time on the Internet - India

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Our Assessment:

B : good overview of life with the Internet

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 6/6/2016 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "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." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Kenneth Goldsmith doesn't begin his book with an account of his (in)famous class on 'Wasting Time on the Internet' but rather with scenes from (mainly his) life on the Internet -- suggesting, already, that it is not necessarily the asocial, limited and experience-limiting world it is often criticized as, but rather that our engagement with it is all part of a natural evolution as we adapt to a new technology -- for good and bad, as with most tremendous technological shifts. Not surprisingly. he doesn't see wasting time on the Internet as a negative -- or, indeed, that the activity is actually (or perhaps largely) a waste of time.
       In the first chapter, after this Introduction, Goldsmith does discuss the course he planned, and the attention he got for it when he announced it -- as well as then the course itself, amusingly admitting that: "From the start it was a disaster". Things did improve, however, and it seems to have ultimately been a success, of sorts, as the class figured it out -- and worked together to dream up all sorts of different ways of wasting time on the Internet. (An Appendix of '101 Ways to Waste Time on the Internet' helpfully (?) collects these and more.)
       The rest of the book moves away from the original idea, as Goldsmith considers more generally (and personally) how the digital has become part of our lives. Some of the chapter titles sum up the ways of seeing this new world: 'Our Browser History is the New Memoir' and 'Archiving is the New Folk Art', and Goldsmith makes some interesting arguments for these. Not that he's entirely convincing: browser history only captures personal history to the extent the person is tethered to the machines; certainly, many contemporaries seamlessly move between them for most of their daily activities, but not everyone is as closely tied to them in anywhere near all their activities (though certainly in the future we may really all be captured this way 24/7).
       The idea of Joseph Cornell prefiguring the Internet age is a nice, and nicely developed one here. Indeed, Goldsmith offers a wonderful variety of often fascinating examples from the art-world (digital and not) and of artists to make his various points. Ultimately, however, he is perhaps too reliant on these, while ignoring other major online activities. (Presumably this is a reflection of the on- and off-line world he inhabits -- but of course there's a lot beyond that too, and while much he discusses applies more generally as well, there's certainly more to it too.)
       His reminders of some of the trade-offs of our digital world are also helpful, such as our tolerance of much worse sound quality (even as we barely register the impoverishment) from the 'lossy compression' of practically all the music we listen to on digital devices. He also offers useful perspectives on the platforms we use, tying ourselves to specific apparati and feeding the machine: Twitter, Instagram, etc., each its own ecosystem (or part of a larger one, such as Instagram as part of Facebook) which is indifferent to what is actually posted as long as it generates more interest and more users and more posts .....
       Sometimes Goldsmith gets a bit carried away with his rosy view, such as describing walking down New York's Park Avenue, where he finds:

Part human, part machine, these masses peck away at their smartphones, deftly navigating the packed sidewalk the way colonies of bats traverse the night sky.
       This does not reflect my -- or, I suspect, anyone's -- experience in trying to walk on sidewalk where a significant number of pedestrians are using, in one form or another, their phones.
       Or, for example, he suggests:
Facebook is the greatest collective autobiography that a culture has ever produced, a boon to future sociologists, historians, and artists.
       This may be true in part -- there's a lot that can be gleaned from Facebook, in the aggregate -- but is also dangerously limiting. There's only so much -- and so many -- Facebook captures -- and it does so through what is ultimately a rather limiting (and hence also distorting) lens. (As someone who does not use Facebook and who remains baffled by almost every aspect of it I am particularly horrified by the idea.)
       Goldsmith does make good points about the shifts in familiar activities that have taken place, as writing, reading, social interaction, and much else is now different -- though not, he argues, necessarily 'worse' (to the extent one can define that). He makes the good point that our use of digital devices isn't very passive:
Instead, our time in front of a machine is active time: we're clicking and seeking, harvesting and communicating.
       Certainly, many of the fears about us wasting our times on the Internet and our devices merely echoes similar fears about previous technological advances, from the printed book to the spread of newspapers to television and more.
       Breezily written, with many interesting and far-ranging examples, Wasting Time on the Internet offers a good overview of life in these early days of what will become an evermore digital age. It makes for a fine, fun, and occasionally thought-provoking read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 December 2016

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Wasting Time on the Internet: Reviews: Kenneth Goldsmith: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American poet Kenneth Goldsmith was born in 1961. He teaches at Penn.

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