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Another Tech Rabbit Hole

The ways we waste time.


Free Learning

One Monday night, I came back to my room at 10:20 PM. I took off my shoes and put some lotion on my hands, and then lay on my bed with the plan of sending out a couple of emails and starting my French essay. I decided to take a short break beforehand, opened newyorker.com on my computer, and clicked on an article called “The Challenge of Going off Prescription Drugs” by Rachel Aviv. I started reading the article, and then I clicked on one of the recommended articles at the bottom of the page called “The Day the Dinosaurs Died.” After I finished that, I clicked on another article, and so on, until I saw that it was 12:30 AM and I was reading a 2006 New York Times article by David Foster Wallace called “Roger Federer as Religious Experience.” I did not work on French that night or send out any emails.

I love consuming news. I love it so much I do it when I should be working. Every morning I listen to Morning Edition on my local NPR station. Before I do any work, my fingers automatically open the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, and Al Jazeera on my computer. I allow myself 30 minutes of free reading, and sometimes more when I really do not want to work on an assignment.

In between writing essays at Shiru Cafe, studying on the first floor of the Rock, and filling up my water bottle at Blue Room, I read articles. I read an RT article called “All orcas & belugas from Russian ‘whale prison’ will return to the wild” on my laptop in the middle of my ECON 1629: Applied Research Methods for Economists class. I read a Jacobin article called “its Eco-Socialism or death” while procrastinating on an application for a job next semester. One time, I delayed confronting my ex-boyfriend after a weird exchange by reading a Washington Post article called  “In the Twittersphere, the D.C. Council went from dry to wry thanks to this guy.”

I can’t explain what it is about articles and news that consumes me. Maybe it is the reminder that there are stories entirely separate of my own, a relief from my own reality. Also, it’s worth mentioning that a huge portion of those articles are not particularly relevant or pertinent to my life.

Whenever I talk about procrastination, my friend Lauren brings up her obsession with youtube. “I think there is something super… it’s like that instant gratification you get from watching a five minute video and having a whole arc of a story… I really have the attention span of a three year old …. It’s really nice to be able to sit back and watch random videos. If one is boring, there is a whole sidebar of related content…

So right now we have a coachella clothing hall, we have 50 people try to chop lettuce, we have the life of a comfort woman, we have a billie eilish coachella performance, we have what makes a perfect pizza, we have some random korean sustainable tofu video, and high protein vegan dinners, we also have a kehlani video.

Here is one that is a little underproduced for my taste, this is truly vlog video. [Video about batteries exploding]…

The algorithms for both youtube and instagram are so strong … they really know what I want to see… once I spend enough time I am hooked I have to switch topics.

Lauren is not the only one I know with idiosyncratic ways of procrastinating. One time I was sitting in class with a friend of mine named Lucien. I was really distracted by what he was doing on his computer.

Zoom into streetview… satellite to streetview. Any streets, any and all. There are American streets that are super GRIDY… and it almost feels like they should look the same but there are surprises at every corner… its not like the game where you try to find the airport. Hop down, walk a few paces, hop up to satellite view. Say we are discussing something that takes place in Croatia. Pop open the laptop, zoom down to a street… this character could be walking down the street. You can zoom down and absorb all these different places. There is so much  new information you’re seeing. It’s as if you’re going to a new place and absorbing all the new information. Streetview has gotten really good, it used to be really GRITTY, but now these images are super clear, you can see what they look like, what the stores look like. There is such an onslaught of information that you can just hop from place to place… good thing to channel your ADD into.

“Get off the New Yorker.” This is what Lauren said to me after 1 hour of studying together in the lounge room at the Hay. I was reading an article about “the Airbnb Invasion of Barcelona.” “This is actually really relevant to a course I plan on taking next semester” I defended myself. This justification is probably indicative of my larger issues regarding my priorities. I tend to prioritize learning for class rather than learning for the sake of learning, which is not unusual nor necessarily bad. But, I think there is something gratifying about learning something – the sticker art scene in DC in my case, Croatian streets in Lucien’s case, and different techniques used to chop greens in Lauren’s – that can be useful in our everyday conversational lives, and not just during finals period. Why did all learning have to be productive? Or rather, isn’t all learning productive by nature, even if not always in the context of academia? Later that day, I read a New York Times op-ed called “the Harm in Hustle Culture.”