Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Am I Wasting Your Time?

Today, my good friend Tom Guarriello, asked a rather innocent question on Twitter, "Is it just me or are all Facebook apps really, really annoying?" He then commented on some of the responses he received in a post called What('s) A Waste Of Time? on his True Talk blog.

I'll get to his first question in a second, but first, more about his blog post... After quoting some dialog from Hamlet in which the title character defines Denmark as a prison while Rosencrantz says that it's not that bad, Tom comes to the conclusion that just as one man's prison may be another's paradise, the same goes for whether or not Facebook apps are an annoying waste or not.

But here's the part I want to comment on... Following the Hamlet scene, Tom writes:
... Western culture has a pretty sturdy set of guidelines about activities that are not, de facto, a waste of time:
  1. Economic - anything leading to personal financial gain
  2. Education - anything leading to fulfilling requirements for a diploma, certificate or degree
  3. Exercise - physical activity for the sake of maintaining bodily fitness (this is a relatively recent addition to the Western canon of acceptable endeavors)
Activities in either of these categories (let's call them "productive") are safe from the charge of wasting time.
Time spent doing things that fall in other categories is more "questionable," i.e., if you do, it's likely that someone or other will think that you are being "unproductive"; wasting time (and, by "thinking make it so").
  1. Entertainment - anything done for personal enjoyment/amusement
  2. Expression - any creative activity that is not directly tied to vocational/economic/educational/fitness purposes
  3. Exploration - anything done out of curiosity; i.e., doing things "for no good reason"
  4. Philanthropy - anything done for the benefit of others
As somebody who's spent his entire career pretty much in that final category, I'd like to suggest that the line between the two groups is not as clear cut as Tom might suggest. I'd say that even the three items in teh first group could be considered "questionable" by some.

Why is activity done for "personal financial gain" automatically useful, while activity done "for the benefit of others" is questionable? I can think of several professions that I would define as a drain on society (anybody want to post a comment defending telemarketers?). And I would defend true philanthropy - doing for others without any expectation of return or recognition - to be the highest calling to which any of us could aspire.

And, really, just where the hell do I fit into this continuum? After all, I work in the charitable/philanthropic sector for personal financial gain. Which part of that equation is the waste of time?

Now, I'm sure Tom didn't mean to imply that crime was "not, de facto, a waste of time" but it is, after all, purely for personal gain and not for the benefit of others (unless you're Robin Hood). And, while I believe in education and (occasionally) try to get to the gym, I know that there are many people who consider both education and exercise to be major wastes of time (probably to their own detriment).

Meanwhile, how much scientific discovery would have been stifled had the discoverers remained in the lab because they felt guilty about wasting their time by going out "exploring"? Curiosity may have killed that cat, but it's also led to a greater understanding of the world around us.

The truth is, everything is a waste of time - including Facebook apps - to the person who has no interest in it and everything is worth pursuing if the person doing the pursuing gets one moment of pleasure from it - including Facebook apps.

It's just fine that some (most?) people think that everything I do is a waste of time, just as my opinion of how they spend their lives is completely irrelevant to them (or, at least, it should be).

I'm sure I had more to say on this topic, but my crops are ready to harvest in Farm Town...

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the extensive thoughts on my blog, Ken.

    I think it's important to point out that I was reflecting on the cultural assessments of the value of any particular activity; the likely evaluation of "the man in the street." Those determinations are guided by the kinds of "common sense" values that leads to least common denominator thinking.

    Who wouldn't place engaging an activity that results in personal economic gain over some woolly-headed "self-expression" like poetry or (shudder!) blogging?

    Obviously, only people who have embraced their own set of values, outside of those conventional, common sense standards. And, thank goodness. If we all agreed on things that were "worth the effort" or simply a "waste of time" nothing new would ever be created. Because, more times than not, engaging in creative activities is the biggest waste of time of all.


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