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by Kenneth Goldsmith

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-06-241647-6
Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

A persuasive argument about how what conventional wisdom dismisses as “wasting time” is actually time well spent.

A conceptual artist and the first poet laureate of the Museum of Modern Art, Goldsmith (Capital: New York, Capital of the 20th Century, 2015, etc.) saw his vision go viral when he launched a course with the same name as this book at the University of Pennsylvania. “This class will focus on the alchemical recuperation of aimless surfing into substantial works of literature,” he hyperbolized within the course description, which concluded, “distraction, multitasking, and aimless drifting is mandatory.” A tweet that linked to that description led to requests for national interviews, and “what ensued was a media feeding frenzy, which ended up consuming itself.” He quickly had more than 300 students clamoring to take a course with a capacity of 15. As for the course itself, “From the start, it was a disaster….I had never seen a group of students as demoralized as these. Clearly, my experiment was failing.” Well, yes and no, because for a course designed without focus, the students had to discover the process on their own and proceed through uncharted territory. Much like the experience of surfing the web, the book doesn’t attempt to provide a cohesive analysis but instead leaps from this intuition to that epiphany and is willing to risk some false starts and even to waste some time along the way. Goldsmith suggests that long before information shifted into digital overdrive, thinkers and artists recognized the crucial role that letting the mind wander plays in creativity. The author finds the surrealists in general and Joseph Cornell in particular to be attuned to the spirit of the internet to come, that “his varied artistic output could be called multimedia some seventy-five years before it become the digital norm.” The disconnection that others bemoan from digital technology strikes the author as heightened communication.

Goldsmith outlines a future that perhaps offers a hope we can embrace, since a retreat seems impossible.