Sometimes I infuriate myself. I’ve got an hour between classes, and about 27 things I could do during that time: finish my economics blue sheet (provided the algebra isn’t too hideous), reply to a couple of emails, fill out a reimbursement form, vacuum my room, start referencing an essay due tomorrow … the options are plentiful. What do I do? Read an article on Huffpost about how to make really flavoursome guacamole. And then scroll down further, mentally taking sides in the epic comment battle between smooth and chunky dip-lovers. Meanwhile, the inflation-adjusted price of avocados remains uncalculated on my tutorial worksheet.
Strive as we may, the prospect of the human race ever achieving 100 per cent efficiency seems doubtful. We devour books that teach us how to get things done, spend a fortune on stationery onto which we offload our mental clutter, and lap up the advice of high-profile busy bees. Speaking of which, did you know Obama has weekly outfit roster because he can’t afford to spend time making mundane fashion choices?
Nevertheless, we still find ourselves lurking in the dark corners of YouTube at 11 pm, watching Will’s pants rip as he flies off a trampoline, or a two-year-old playing The Beatles on a ukulele.
It’s time to face the cold, hard truth: humans have always wasted time, and they probably always will. The problem, however, lies not in the substance of this statement, but in the phraseology. Doing things we don’t need to be doing isn’t necessarily time ‘wasted’ – relaxing is important. The trick is being able to do this well; to ‘waste time’ – if we’re going to submit to the use of the expression – efficiently. In today’s world, that’s much harder than it sounds.
We’ve been pigeonholed as a generation of procrastinators, succumbbing to the temptation of the virtual world with little resistance. We game, Facebook and Instagram to the detriment of our personal development. Our parents often lament this seemingly tragic turn in human evolution, eyes glazing over as they reminisce about their own youth, untainted as it was by the tyranny of technology. In their free time, they frolicked in the the streets, inhaled fresh, unpolluted air, and enjoyed face-to-face interaction with other pre-technological children of Eden.
Don’t be fooled.
They also spent countless hours watching Looney Tunes on TV and chatting to friends on the home phone. The difference for them was that such time-wasting was self-limiting. Before Foxtel or the internet, recording shows was difficult, and so one would sit down to watch “The Brady Bunch” at 7pm and then turn the box off at 8pm when something rubbish came on. And spending too long on the telephone meant incurring parental wrath upon the arrival of the bill.
The problem for millennials is not that the television, computer, and iPhone exist; for these inventions have actually made our lives exponentially more efficient – how many extra hours would you have to spend researching for that essay if you didn’t have access to an online database? The real issue is that they tie work and play together in an unprecedented fashion, so that now, we waste time at the wrong times. During a politics tute last week, I watched as one student raised her left hand to answer a question. Her right hand remained glued to the arrow keys, deftly arranging the falling coloured blocks in an attempt to beat her Tetris high score. It conjured memories of my year nine addiction to Bubble Trouble (I eventually passed the game, and probably with a better score than I received for humanities that year. Oops.)
We’re never going to do what we should be doing all of the time. So let’s embrace time-wasting as a valuable activity in itself, but if we’re going to do it, let’s do it properly. Decisively. Set aside half an hour to traverse the Internet link by link in the morning, if that’s how you like to keep up to date with the world. Play some music, read a book, kick a footy. What the heck, play some Minecraft if you really want to.
But when it’s nearing midnight, and you’re trying to finish off that assignment, resist YouTube’s strange allure. “Ultimate Fails” compilations may be amusing, but watch too many and the name may prove prophetic.