These days in the United States, students can take college- and university-level courses in just about anything. From lectures centered on pop culture behemoths like Harry Potter and Star Trek to classes entitled “The Art of Walking” or “Understanding Basket Weaving,” apparently nothing is off limits in the realm of higher education.

Now, from the University of Pennsylvania, comes the course “Wasting Time on the Internet.” In a recent article for The New Yorker, course instructor Kenneth Goldsmith explained his rationale behind the course, which is aimed at creative writing students.  His course will attempt to help students capture the distractions of the Internet in order to remake them into works of literature.

For Goldsmith, “drifting, daydreaming, and procrastination have long been a part of the writing process” and the Internet provides these in spades. Of course, critics of digital modes of reading and information processing believe the World Wide Web is actually making us dumber. But according to Goldsmith, the digital world we live in merely provides a new way of reading – one that isn’t better or worse, simply different:

Every click is indicative of who we are: indicative of our likes, our dislikes, our emotions, our politics, our world view. Of course, marketers have long recognized this, but literature hasn’t yet learned to treasure—and exploit—this situation… We’re reading and writing more than we have in a generation, but we are reading and writing differently—skimming, parsing, grazing, bookmarking, forwarding, retweeting, reblogging, and spamming language—in ways that aren’t yet recognized as literary.

In a previous post, I talked about digital literature and how it differs from traditional literature and even e-books. Goldsmith’s course is offering yet another way of thinking about digital literature and how it’s created. While his students may indeed end up creating a literary work that more closely resembles a traditional format, the process of getting there is entirely digital. I’m very curious to see what might come out of this course – and how it connects to other digital literature.

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