Professor Explains Why He Is Offering A Class On ‘Wasting Time On The Internet’ by Jessica Goldstein Posted on October 29, 2014 at 4:53 pm Updated: October 29, 2014 at 9:15 pm


If you have been wasting time on the internet at all in the past few days, you’ve probably read about “Wasting time on the Internet,” a new University of Pennsylvania writing course Kenneth Goldsmith will be teaching in the spring. Goldsmith is not exactly new to seminars that inspire a double-take — previous efforts include “Uncreative Writing,” in which students are penalized for anything unplagiarized — or to the world of weird things you can do with the internet (he printed up ten tons of paper for his 2013 exhibition “Printing Out the Internet,” a tribute to Aaron Swartz, the internet activist). The course description asks would-be students, “Could we reconstruct our autobiography using only Facebook? Could we write a great novella by plundering our Twitter feed? Could we reframe the internet as the greatest poem ever written?”

University of Pennsylvania, Hey Day, 2007.

University of Pennsylvania, Hey Day, 2007. CREDIT: Matt Rourke/AP

If you have been wasting time on the internet at all in the past few days, you’ve probably read about “Wasting time on the Internet,” a new University of Pennsylvania writing course Kenneth Goldsmith will be teaching in the spring. Goldsmith is not exactly new to seminars that inspire a double-take — previous efforts include “Uncreative Writing,” in which students are penalized for anything unplagiarized — or to the world of weird things you can do with the internet (he printed up ten tons of paper for his 2013 exhibition “Printing Out the Internet,” a tribute to Aaron Swartz, the internet activist). The course description asks would-be students, “Could we reconstruct our autobiography using only Facebook? Could we write a great novella by plundering our Twitter feed? Could we reframe the internet as the greatest poem ever written?”

The existence of the course sparks the usual questions: how can we take something as silly as the internet seriously? Or, conversely, how can we not take something as all-consuming as the internet seriously? Is “wasting time” a valid expenditure of Ivy League tuition? Are all Ivy Leaguers zombiesIs college worth it? Is this actually about ethics in gaming journalism? I called up Goldsmith to learn more. I didn’t keep Gchatting with other people during our conversation, but he probably would’ve loved it if I had.

I’ve seen your name all over the internet today.

It’s hard to be a meme.

Where did the idea for this class come from? What’s the origin story?

I’d just been reading over and over again how the internet is making us dumber, how we’re not reading anymore, how we’re not writing anymore. And I’m finding that to be completely untrue. I think we’re reading and writing more than we ever have before, but in very different ways. And I think we need to theorize that more and talk about it more.

Was this a hard sell to the university? What’s the pitch process?

I’m an unconventional teacher. For the last ten years, by best-known class has been called “Uncreative writing,” where students must plagiarize and be unoriginal. They get penalized for showing a shred of creativity or originality. It’s been a great hit. It’s a marvelous thing. So if I come up with another one that sounds outrageous, my track record is okay, and they just say “go for it.” It was all green lights.

What’s been the feedback on all this press, then? Is it a net-positive, all-press-is-good-press kind of thing? Or is there a sense that the buzz on the class reflects negatively on the university?

Well, I’m not sure. It’s a small class, it’s only 15 students. By having all this press, it isn’t going to make the school a ton more money by shoving hundreds of students in a room and having people spaced out on the internet. It’s a seminar. And it’s very important that we’re all in the same room together, being distracted at the same time.

Article continues:

http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2014/10/29/3586236/im-sure-someone-could-write-terrific-erotica-from-their-porn-surfing/

Antibiotics ‘linked to childhood obesity’ 30 September 2014 Last updated at 00:02 ETBy Smitha Mundasad Health reporter, BBC News 


Young children who are given repeated courses of antibiotics are at greater risk than those who use fewer drugs of becoming obese, US researchers say.

picture of pills

Antibiotics targeted at specific bugs did not lead to weight gain

The JAMA Pediatrics report found children who had had four or more courses by the age of two were at a 10% higher risk of being obese.

But scientists warn this does not show antibiotics cause obesity directly and recommend children continue using them.

Many more studies are needed to explain the reasons behind the link, they say.

“Start Quote

It would be a concern if parents took from this that they ought to be reluctant to allow antibiotic use in their children”

Dr Graham BrudgeUniversity of Southampton

Targeted therapy

US researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Bloomberg School of Public Health reviewed the health records of more than 64,500 American children between 2001 and 2013.

The children were followed up until they reached five years of age.

Almost 70% of them had been prescribed two courses of antibiotics by the time they were 24 months old.

But those who had four or more courses in this time were at a 10% higher risk of being obese at the age of five than children who had been given fewer drugs.

And the type of antibiotics they were prescribed appeared to make a difference too – those given drugs targeted at a particular bug were less likely to put on weight.

But those given a broad-spectrum antibiotic – that can kill several types of bacteria indiscriminately – were more likely to have a higher body mass.

Prof Charles Bailey at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “We think after antibiotics some of the normal bacteria in our gut that are more efficient at nudging our weight in the right direction may be killed off and bacteria that nudge the metabolism in the wrong direction may be more active.”

And researchers say the study highlights that over prescribing inappropriate antibiotics could have a negative impact on child growth.

picture of a boy
Children who were given antibiotics in the first few months of life were also at greater risk 

Prof Nigel Brown, president of the Society for General Microbiology in the UK, said: “This study adds further evidence that the use of antibiotics early in life has a role to play in obesity.

“While antibiotic use is only one factor that may predispose children to be obese, the study emphasises the importance of rapid diagnostic tests that allow precise targeting of antibiotics, which will kill the disease-causing bacteria and cause minimum disruption to the normal gut flora.”

And Prof Bailey acknowledged his study had limitations as they were not able to look at the children’s weight or exercise regimes.

He says the team will now start to explore what influence lifestyle factors has on these findings.

But Dr Graham Brudge, at the University of Southampton, said: “The design of the study did not allow testing as to whether antibiotic use during infancy causes obesity in childhood, only that there may be an association.

“It would be a concern if parents took from this that they ought to be reluctant to allow antibiotic use in their children.

“The key risk factors for childhood obesity are over-consumption of high energy, nutrient-poor foods and lack of exercise.”

Mice trials

Meanwhile in a separate study, scientists reporting in the journal of the American Society for Microbiology found that a species of gut bacteria – called Clostridium ramosum – could promote weight gain in mice.

Mice with these bacteria present in their guts became obese when fed a high-fat diet, while those that did not have the bacteria put on less weight despite being given high-calorie meals.

The scientists, from the German Institute of Human Nutrition, in Nuthetal, are now trying to understand how the bacteria interact with digestion.

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-29409087

Why We Enjoy Chili Peppers, S&M, Gruesome Movies, and Other Unpleasant Experiences – By Matthew Hutson May 30, 2014 11:04 a.m.


Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at May 31, 2014 5.08

This summer, millions of people will crowd into theaters to watch the latestParanormal Activity. They’ll visit Coney Island to ride the new Thunderbolt. They’ll challenge their friends to chili-dog-eating contests and guffaw at jokes about the digestive results. Why do we enjoy aversive experiences, from horror flicks to roller coasters to spicy foods to gross-out humor? Scientists are discovering that such enjoyment comes not from the raw experience itself, but from our reflections on our pain.

Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania has done the most to elucidate what he calls “benign masochism.” Three decades ago he wrote about people’s enjoyment of chili peppers. (He found that for many, the preferred level of hotness is just below what’s unbearable.) “I presented the idea in the 1980s, but nobody noticed,” he said — with a few exceptions such as Paul Bloom’sHow Pleasure Works. So he decided to reintroduce it in a more systematic way. In a paper published last year in Judgment & Decision Making, he and his collaborators provided the most thorough survey of unpleasant experiences to date.

The researchers asked about 400 college undergrads and internet users to rate 30 items some might consider unpleasant on how much they enjoyed each one. They found that the items could be categorized into eight distinct groups based on shared appeal: sad works of art; spicy foods; gross-outs such as disgusting jokes, popping pimples, and medical exhibits; thrill rides and scary movies; pain from things like strong massages, hot tubs, and cold showers; the taste of alcohol; physical exertion and exhaustion; and the taste of bitter food and drink.

The most popular single item was physical exertion, which garnered an average score of 60.4 out of 100. The next most popular were thrill rides (56.5), the physical exhaustion you feel after exertion (55.2), spicy food (55), and sad music (47.6). There wasn’t much of a difference between men’s and women’s preferences, except that women tended to like sad items more, and men liked the taste of alcohol more.

One thing appears to unite all the items: They are unpleasant but harmless (in moderation). The concept of benign masochism springs from an important realization: Despite feeling discomfort, one is actually safe during these activities. Because of the role metacognition plays in this — “it’s a mind over body idea,” Rozin says — the researchers also think the phenomenon is uniquely human. Dogs in Mexico don’t form a preference for spicy foods. “I’ve tried to get chimps and rats to like hot pepper,” Rozin said. “I got a little bit of success with chimps … but not much.” He also said he has no knowledge of “an animal, like, standing on a railroad track just before the train comes by, or voluntarily going up a cliff, or anything like that.” Cattle are not sensation-seekers. (Some animals, however, do play-fight, which I’d argue is in the realm of benign masochism. They even emit panting similar to laughter.)

Related to the work on benign masochism, Peter McGraw, a psychologist at the University of Colorado and co-author of the new book The Humor Code, has been developing his “benign violation” theory of humor. A joke must find the right balance between threat and harmlessness in order to be funny, he argues. In his most recent paper, he reported that three Hurricane Sandy jokes the researchers tracked through Twitter became gradually funnier and then less funny after the event, as they swept through that sweet spot of tragicomedy in between “too soon” and “old news,” peaking in hilarity a month after the storm:

The common thread in our enjoyment of hot peppers, dark humor, and all the rest is a salient understanding that no real danger is afoot. A few years ago, a study by Eduardo Andrade and Joel Cohen explored the importance of a “protective frame” reminding us that an experience is safe. Two groups of subjects, those who love horror movies and those who avoid them, watched a scene from Salem’s Lot while continuously rating how happy they were and how scared they were. In one experiment, everyone simply watched the film. Both groups equally reported being scared, but the horror fans were simultaneously happy, while the non-fans were made unhappy by the mayhem. Then, in another test, horror lovers and haters first read short biographies of the actors, and while watching the scene they saw photos of the actors next to the film. The tweaks offered a protective frame reminding viewers: It’s just a movie! This time, both groups found joy in being scared.

No discussion of this subject would be complete without a mention of sadomasochism. A meta-analysis by Joseph Critella and Jenny Bivona of 20 studies found that between 31 and 57 percent of women have erotic rape fantasies. What psychologically separates these scenarios from actual rape is that they’re fantasies, and women know they’re fantasies. It’s hard to enjoy domination if you don’t ultimately trust your partner. Having a “safe word,” besides adding real protection, can enable pleasure even when it goes unused.

Other researchers have studied various aspects of the metacognitive process that extracts joy from misery. Most notably, the economist George Loewenstein wrote that mountaineers enjoy their dangerous adventures in part because of a sense of mastery. The realization that you can weather pain and fear and still conquer your environment brings a sense of control and self-confidence.

Recently, Werner Wirth and colleagues showed that when watching Hotel Rwanda, sadness was associated with not just a sense of mastery over negative feelings but also a sense of personal growth and the feeling that important life values had been illuminated. In the lingo, sadness reduced hedonic value and raised eudaimonic value, trading happiness for meaningfulness. Relatedly, Mary Beth Oliver and Arthur Raney found that preferences for nonfiction, drama, and sci-fi movies are negatively correlated with the desire to have fun while watching a movie, but are positively correlated with a desire for meaning — reflection and a challenged worldview.

And sometimes, unpleasantness appeals simply for its novelty. Anat Keinan and Ran Kivetz have looked at “collectable experiences”: many people choose unusual activities (e.g., staying in an ice hotel) over pleasurable ones (staying at a Marriott in Florida) as a way to build their “experiential CV,” thus feeling productive. In other words, it seems we want to map and master the full range of potential human experience.