NYT – Review of “In Praise of Wasting Time” Speaks Ominously of a Digital “Grid”


  • M.I.T. professor Alan Lightman’s (eclectic physicist, novelist and essayist) book “In Praise of Wasting Time,”
  • proposes “that half our waking minds be designated and saved for quiet reflection.” 
  • targeting the subversive impact on civilization of the increasingly frenetic pace of life
  • Failure results in the collective destruction of “our inner selves and our creative capacities.”
  • draws on historical anecdotes as well as research on a variety of topics like creativity and loneliness, productivity and meditation
  • culprit behind “today’s time-driven, wired existence” threatening our humanity identified as called “the grid.”
    • “the vast and all-consuming network” whose digital tentacles have already transformed “our entire way of thinking” and “our way of being in the world, our social and psychological ethos.”
  • He documented a variety of disturbing social phenomena 
    • increase in teenage depression
    • college students preferred to self-administer a painful electric shock rather than sit quietly with their thoughts for 12 minutes
    • decline in creativity among children
  • their connection to the emergence of “the grid” is often tenuous at best
  • He never fully clearly defines what is meant by “wasting time.”
    • Sometimes in book he indicates it is synonymous with “non-goal oriented uses of time,”
    • but the chapter extolling the virtue of all forms of “play” is chock-full of goal-oriented activities
  • In his chapter on creativity he emphasizes the value of “letting the mind wander and spin.” (perhaps thru use of drugs … lol)
  • vast majority of knowledge is acquired the old-fashioned way: hard, focused acquisition of increasing expertise
  • there is clearly value to unfocused activity…no evidence that for most people it makes sense to dedicate anything like half our waking hours to such musing
  • “In Praise of Wasting Time” is published by TED Books
    • one of the many spinoff businesses of the wildly popular conferences
    • (TED talks) described by the author Nassim Nicholas Taleb as a “monstrosity that turns scientists and thinkers into low-level entertainers, like circus performers.” (finally…I’ve founds someone else who has my disdain for TED talks)

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