On the modern phenomenon of timewasting
By Simon Barget
Before timewasting became art it was a barely-known fringe pursuit, rarely practised or witnessed. How it grew into a popular obsession, capturing the imagination of young and old, is not easy to say. Timewasting was once confined to mystics and sadhus, holy men and chancers, but even there it could be said to have been done with a purpose in mind.
True timewasting as we know it today (modern timewasting) is narrowly defined and must fulfil three requirements. First, there must be no coherent activity of body or mind; second, the activity must not produce a meaningful result; third, there must be no visible intention to produce a result, wherein the positive intention of not producing a result is caught by this third limb, so that intentional timewasting immediately disqualifies the timewaster from justifying the timewaste. Nearly all of the claimants fall down on this last requirement.
Returning to the first requirement, the key word is coherent because timewasting does not necessarily require the timewaster to sit Zen like a stone, far from it; timewasting can, and usually does, occur in the midst of a secondary activity, but the important feature of the secondary activity is that the activity be pointless, futile, serving no purpose, not done according to the will, or even against it, in fact the most useful determiner of the fruitlessness of the activity becomes whether or not the activity bears any relation to the observable will of the timewaster. If it does, the timewaste is excluded.
And so it was that the early (modern) timewasters came to see life as it really was i.e. an exercise in letting the clock tick down, and perhaps this goes part-way to explaining the popularity, the sheer brazen honesty of it all, and people started emerging from all corners of the globe to seek recognition as timewasters, so rare and infrequent, any man, (or woman) who could claim to be really living a moment, spending their time as a pure waste, that even when observed, it was rarely credited.
And initially it was impossible to verify, to delineate the person who’d poured their soul into the wasting from the one who had not, some people pointed to a blankness of face, an absence of cognizance, and then the hours of camera footage sent out to all the associations, just a man before a camera doing something or nothing, walking, running, scratching an itch, the activities too numerous to mention, in fact, it could encompass anything you could think a human being capable of doing, even down to the most thrill-producing of activities such as bungee jumping or skydiving, nothing in itself excluded from the ambit of the genuine timewaste, no thing more conducive to inclusion than the next, everything dependent upon the will of the waster, and who could say whether the person was thinking about something or other, and even the slightest thought about his own endeavours, about timewasting itself would invalidate the attempt and bring immediate disqualification. You could have thirty hours of perfect timewasting and be disqualified the next second. And this is what made it so difficult to judge. If there was no homogeneity in the physical activity of the timewaster, if timewasting could be incorporated into anything under the sun, how could you distinguish the real from the fake?
There was no sure-fire way. Claimants were required to send in footage and the decisions were random. The judges were often self-appointed having no credentials, no qualifications, no background in timewasting, people who felt the urge to simply judge, to have the power to confirm or deny, but despite the chaos, the timewasting claims kept piling in. It then became common practice for claiming timewasters to include a synopsis or briefing, perhaps even a time stamp, to try and substantiate the disconnection of their will from the activity, breaking-down their inner feeling at every stage of the timewaste, and of course it became rather laborious for claimers to have to list every little nuance of their interior landscape, every fillip and movement detailed to the most tedious accuracy, to be able to add veracity to their claim. The idea was that if you could account for every momentary whim or feeling then you could withstand any suggestion that you had consciously timewasted.
This came with all sorts of problems, not least the concern that claimants could build in false attestations, they could make any claim as to what they were thinking or feeling and there’d be no reasonable way to verify. And admittedly the timewasting world was ridiculously scrupulous in its infancy, and it was almost unknown for any timewaster to be accepted to any association without months or even years of scrutiny, where the video was remitted to all sister associations, who could, and would, ask for further corroboration, and bear in mind that some of the early timewasters were wasting not minutes but had managed to perfect hours or even days of uninterrupted timewasting. Some favoured the absence of physical activity but the pendulum soon swung the other way wherein the wildest things on camera were likely to earn full timewasting status such as self-immolation, amateurish space exploration attempts and sometimes even fatal or non-fatal suicide jumps from high bridges. To be faced therefore with rebuffs or at the very least obstacles with suggestion of foul-play, must have been very hard for our pioneer timewasters.
Later on it was furiously debated whether timewasting was internal or external phenomenon, that is to say; was the timewasting proved by the mere fact of time being wasted, of the time having elapsed from a defined point thereon in to the next, or was the real timewaste (and not just the ersatz), was it not dependent upon a subtle state of mind, somewhere in between recklessness and despair, something not so completely careless as to show no respect whatsoever for the time itself and therefore its wasting, wasn’t the critical ingredient, it was argued, a sort of carefreeness or abandon as to the elapsing of time itself (i.e. all time), and not just the time that was to be timewasted, since the time wasted time was not known in advance of the timewasting? The argument is clearly a red herring. Does not the interior match the exterior? Can one not tell from either whether the timewaster is genuine? And since I know of no way (currently) of divining the interior state of mind of the timewaster, was it not just enough to look at the clip and give him (or her) the certification? I write ‘her’ in brackets because female timewasters account for a tiny minority, so much so that if you break down the figures, a paltry 0.4% of all recorded timewastings have been committed by women, that is not to say 0.4% of the timewasters but just of the time length accepted into our principle association.
Something about timewasting does not appeal to women. Please don’t take one side or the other, for I could have easily written this under a pseudonym where you wouldn’t have known that this author is female. Suffice it to say that we women are either not interested enough, not passionate enough, or yes I can admit this, that we don’t have the tenacity for true timewasting, perhaps it wouldn’t cause outrage to suggest that many of the activities we engage in in this day and age, like cooking or cleaning, picking up people’s mess, are distant cousins of timewasting, of the same ilk, and therefore if some of the things closest to our hearts are relations, it seems silly to give them up for something similar but unrewarding, and for what, a bit of recognition, what, because the whole world has gone crazy for timewasters, because they’re all over the internet and YouTube and podcasts, not to mention all the timewasting apps springing up on the App Store.
Timewasting is a luxury that many people, men included, can ill afford, and now I find myself stepping right into the argument that rages, the advocates propounding the skill, the absolute peaks of concentration, determination, patience required, the effort yet also effortlessness that timewasting displays, how timewasting became the most enviable non-activity-activity ever engaged in, how the absence of any true external activity makes the timewasting godlike and other-worldly, so knife-edge so difficult to perfect, but where the other side says, and I write this with no attempt at dry or sardonic humour, that it’s just a complete waste of time.
Thankfully we have moved on. We have timewasters themselves as judges. We have lists of recommended activities. We have teachers and pundits. We have people getting together in groups to timewaste. Yet it remains to be seen how ingrained timewasting will become. Is this a new era or just a phase? Will our politicians call for more regulation or let the industry itself decide what is right? It is too early to say.