On How to Effectively Waste Time Online
In the age of productivity, it has become almost shameful to honestly admit, even to a close friend, that from time to time we willingly waste time. After all – we are supposed to, expected to and ought to be goal-oriented over achievers struggling to explore the uncharted waters of youth.
by VILIUS PETKAUSKAS
illustrations by AUSTE DZIKARAITE
If you are one of the lucky ones, having truly found your calling, this is not for you. You already know where to focus your attention. You probably never struggle to find what to occupy your mind with. Close this tab and go to make that dream come true – Godspeed!
Rest of us, however, are only human. You and I have to deal with moments of weakness, tiredness and boredom. Sometimes we need to get a break from our work, loved ones, friends but most importantly - ourselves. I suspect that both of us turn to the same saviour. A black mirror of ones and zeros, programmed to suck out our attention span so effectively, Sasha Grey would flush with jealousy.
Don't get me wrong – no one is arguing that this habit needs to be get rid of. Quite the contrary. It would be foolish to argue in favour of giving up such an amazing educational tool that the Internet is. Nevertheless, some light adjustments might need to be made in order to convert our online activities to be a bit more useful.
Go open your YouTube front page. I can almost guarantee you that you will fall into one of the two categories – your front page is either dominated by music or some kind of videos. If it's mostly music – you're missing out on a lot of interesting shit, buddy. I doubt this comes as a surprise, but YouTube is a TV channel. One massive chunk of whatever the fuck you want. And you might be using this endless cable package for, in essence, MTV and the likes of it.
Now, channels I am going to refer to here might be of zero interest to you, but they are here to serve as examples and not to be taken literally. Being a fan of politics, amateur-philosophy, history and such – I do tend to gravitate towards channels that offer content related to the aforementioned topics.
For example, take Wisecrack. The channel takes on popular media and deconstructs it bit by bit using philosophy. Hence, videos like "The philosophy of Rick and Morty" are born to explain you a hit show via concepts of cosmic pessimism, nihilism and *insert fancy term*. Same goes for hit movies, books and better-known tv shows. The most appealing part is that you are entertained and educated at the same time since everything is laid out in rather simple vocabulary.
If you can't stand the pop, try the School of Life that offers an ocean of videos on various strands of psychology and philosophy. Learn what stoicism is, why Socrates hated democracy or what would "Machiavelli advice to nice guys/gals" while washing dishes or taking a dump. Learn why do you love the way you do and how to get over someone.
Or maybe you're into slick video essays about music, art or cinema. If that's the case – go click on Nerdwritter1 or NowYouSeeMe. Want to strengthen your knowledge about the First World War? There is a guy explaining all the events of that murderous slaughterhouse one week per episode. Over four years of conflict thoroughly compressed into well-produced videos that cover tactics, personalities, inventions, uniforms, regions, countries and so on. Yet again – everything is presented neatly and as to get you hooked.
With all honesty, it is really difficult to learn nothing at all even without paying attention if a well-crafted content is playing in the back. You need to actively counteract a natural human impulse to learn.
We read and write more than any other generation in the history of humanity. Period. On the other hand, the majority of the stuff we read is complete rubbish. All the Facebook posts, all the Twitter messages and most of the articles (not this one, of course) are absolutely meaningless in the bigger set of things. But forget that. Concentrate on the reading part.
I will assume here that you own a smartphone. And if that is the case, most of the nonsensical texts are digested using this device. Now, if smartphones are in fact used to read, why not use them to read actual books?
Now calm down the optician inside you. Of course, this cannot be healthy for your eyes. It is not. But as screen time app tells us, we are probably looking at the screen anyway and mostly reading stuff. Using the damn thing for hours every day. In terms of eye-health, I honestly fail to see any difference between reading a social media post and reading an actual work of literature.
Take Seneca's Moral letters to Lucilius, for example. Most of the letters (there are over 100 of them, some longer, some shorter) are no longer than a rant from some medium level social media star. It is possible to read some of the two-millennia-old Seneca's letters on a cigarette break.
I have read a number of books, almost cover to cover, on my 4,7-inch iPhone screen using free KyBook app. I do own a Kindle, yet I can't be bothered to use it since doing so requires deciding that now is a time for reading. Which somehow is ought to be surrounded by a magical mood of wisdom. Also – who wants to carry yet additional device.
If you put off reading because there is no time to do that, ask yourself – how come it is possible to read so many texts on social media, but not books? Your eyes don't care if it's Facebook or Kybook. Moreover, a great deal of good books are divided up into 5-10-minute-long chapters, so is there really an adequate excuse not to read? Thought so.
Presumably, there is a pair of earphones/earbuds/headphones/speakers laying nearby. Grab 'em. Use 'em. I am fully aware that when it comes to a medium of media one consumes via ears, music is and always will be primary. And it should stay so – music, especially quality music, is a friend and a therapist.
But occasionally, we do get tired even from the best of things. If you find yourself in a position where music becomes annoying yet silence – insufferable, podcasts are the answer. In pretty much the same way YouTube is a new sort of television, podcasts are interchangeable with radio.
I must admit being very sceptical with podcasts at first. After all, how can one concentrate on a piece of information that is a lot lengthier than your average 3,5-minute-long song? All of that changed when I was introduced to the self-titled history buff, Dan Carlin and his Hardcore History. The first podcast I have ever listened to turned out to be around 190 minutes long. If the host is talented enough – time flies. And oh boy he is.
By conservative estimates I've spent at least a whole week worth of time (nights included) listening to him ramble about Caesar's endeavours in what is now France, hearing him talk about the ruthlessness of the Khans and discussing the morality of aerial bombings. Again – introduced lightly, interestingly so to make you appreciate that Song of Ice and Fire is just a table-top soap opera compared to actual human history.
In case you want something to make you look like an idiot, trying to contain laughter in a crowded bus stop, there are the guys from the Last Podcast on the Left. Maybe you want to know how Rasputin got his ass handed to him by his neighbour for trying to steal a fence midday, or maybe the stories of people like L. Ron Hubbard, father of Scientology, interest you – look no more. And I dare you, I double dare you, mothertrucker, try not laugh.
In case you're up for some more serious learning – try The History of Rome by Mike Duncan. Around 15 minutes per show it's a candy to listen to on a bus, tram or whatever you use to go to that place you so gladly leave on Friday. First few episodes might seem a bit rough, but give the guy some slack – first episodes are as ancient in Internet terms as Rome is (they were released back when Nokia was still worlds leading mobile manufacturer). If these are not for you, don't worry - I can guarantee you that there are a plenty of other wonderful podcasts more suited to your liking.
Before putting this to bed, I need to add a massive disclaimer here. As none of us would like to have any additional tinfoil hat wearing idiots roaming around the town – be very, VERY critical of the media you consume. Especially on the Internet where production value may surpass the depth of the analysis more often than not. Be smart.
Lastly, there are always better things to do than to immerse yourself in the vastness of the Internet. But if we'd only admitted that most of the things we do online are of little importance, it'd be a lot easier to refocus our attention towards exploring ideas and digging deeper into what we already love. Or maybe I am completely wrong and all those months of my youth spent online are wasted beyond repair. So be it.