Alright, I admit it, I love wasting time!
Man I love wasting time! Why just before I started writing this I was perusing the Yahoo News wire, learning about some really awesome stuff like how to make Rachel Ray's zucchini pancakes, a bizarre O.J. Simpson interview where he “fake” confesses to the murders, and lot’s of articles about celebrities and politicians “slamming” each other. I’ve learned in my, now decades, of internet news reading that if an article has the word “slam” in the headline, that’s internet news speak for “passive criticism buried in paragraph 4.” What a lot of people don’t realize is that in a typical news business structure the editor picks the headline, not the reporter. Editors are trouble, that’s why I don’t have one for this blog…bet you had no idea.
While I realize the news media in all forms is a juicy blogging target, if you’re getting excited that I’m about to go off on that topic….relax!...I said RELAX!..JUST BE FUCKING CALM OK!!!!
What I’m really interested in for this post is the topic of wasting time, which is what we all know we are doing when we read that crap. Sure we lie to ourselves and say “duhhh…look I’m staying informed!” but the reality is that we mostly sift through those things to find conflicts or subjects that invoke instant reactions and emotions that make us feel (falsely) like we are involved in them and have a stake in them. We would love to tell ourselves that we are keeping our brains sharp by diving deep into world and domestic affairs but, as I pointed out in the opening paragraph, we often end up with a picture of Rachel Ray or O.J. on our screen and we all know they hardly fall into 'informing myself' category.
Sure, I like to read about scandals, studies, conflicts and all the things we think we’re supposed to know about, but I also find myself getting into the junk too. What’s interesting about this phenomenon (and probably why sites like Yahoo are losing traffic and profits hand over fist) is that the applications on our phone have found ways to steal our attention from these media sites.
I reluctantly joined Facebook last November after a decade of what I told myself was an ‘Intellectual protest.’ In truth it was really just me not wanting to get addicted to it (which I am now, thanks a lot Zuckerberg). That reminds me, checking phone…and…no red numbers next to the little bell?!!!!…later…I’ll check later!
But it’s not just Facebook of course, they all have their sneaky little ways of wasting our time, and the sneakiest thing is that they all do it just a little bit differently. My time wasting is divided pretty evenly these days between Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo News app, YouTube, Amazon (of course) and finally Pinterest! Yes, you read that correctly Pinterest! I’m into it…Word!
Now I could look at this situation and get really resentful toward these devices but I honestly think they are just tapping into something many of us would otherwise be doing in some other form. When I was growing up this was done through video games and syndicated Television.
Ahhhh…syndicated television. There was something about watching a bunch of crap I had already seen (so many times that I could rewrite the episodes on a typewriter verbatim) that had this odd comforting quality to it. I wish I could put my finger on what was interesting about syndication, maybe it was the fact that it enabled me to be a complete space cadet? I mean lets be honest, the first time you watch something it takes a lot out of you. Listening, paying attention, remembering what happened in the last scene. Don’t we get enough of this stuff at work and school? When I’m in my house with nothing to do, the last thing I want is to activate my frontal cortex in any kind of critical manner. And there was probably no syndicated show I enjoyed more than Seinfeld. That’s right, my favorite syndicated show, the one I wasted many hours of my teenage and young adult life watching, was a self described ‘show about nothing.’ You see, by the mid 90’s time wasting had become such a prolific activity that it found its way into our entertainment subject matter! I mean more than half the scenes on Seinfeld are the characters sitting around talking in a diner! Did you all read that? WE WERE WASTING OUR OWN TIME WATCHING PEOPLE ON TELEVISION, WASTING THEIR TIME!
Here’s another bizarre time-wasting activity I used to partake in, I would master a video game from beginning to end then, when I got bored of what was on television, I would play said game in a similar fashion to the style of watching syndicated television. I would be so good at the game that I was sort of only half paying attention and often I would turn on music while playing the game (Pink Floyd's "Time" is a good choice if anyone is looking for a suggestion). I don’t know what the goal of this activity was, aside from convincing myself that I was ‘doing something.’ I used to want to believe that my impulse to play Mario Cart or Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball like this was a manifestation of my genius, the ability to put in a half-assed effort on something and still get stellar results. But I think in reality it was more in the ballpark of something that was intellectually soothing, like a 'binky for my brain' almost (phone apps give me almost the identical sensation by the way).
That’s what I feel like all these time wasting tools are: syndication, video games, news, Facebook, Amazon....and before these things existed we still had crossword puzzles, tiddlywinks, hacky sacks, why I can remember my grandfather (a guy who worked 50 plus hours a week into his 70s) spending the hours he wasn’t working playing solitaire at his kitchen table! (well….when he wasn’t watching T.V. anyway) All I’m saying is that wasting time isn’t a new phenomenon. Yes, we need to put the phones down, but we also need to be honest with ourselves, the phones are just a newer form of all these old phenomena.
Wasting time is one of those things that we are relentlessly self-critical for. There’s no shame like the kind we put on ourselves for getting lost in a phone app when we should be doing things like, I don’t know, writing a blog post! But I contend that the time wasting would find its way into your life one way or another. Over the years I’ve discovered time wasting is kind of like ‘Whack a Mole’ if I suppress my T.V. then my phone apps pop up, if I suppress my phone, I may pick up a Rubic’s cube…ooohh, what’s this thing? A fidget spinner?
I would love to be concluding this post with a solution to the problem but I'm not, unfortunately. That doesn’t mean we should just give in I suppose, but lately I've decided that I should be a little less self-critical and just find ways to limit and confine it. Whatever you are doing while you are wasting time, it’s being done because you kind of enjoy it on some level. And for all you people who are shaking their heads reading this who use words like “productive” and “efficient” to describe themselves, may I suggest the link below? Turns out time wasting can be learned, #16 is my favorite: