Leutz: "Nothing" is Important

Wasting time is not a waste of time.

by Peter Leutz | 10/29/19 2:15am

Returning to campus this fall has reminded me of just how much of student life on Dartmouth’s campus is spent waiting in line. We wait in line for the Hop after 10As, Collis pasta at night and KAF whenever we need a boost. Waiting in line isn’t just a reality of dining halls, but also a staple of fraternity basements — where we must wait, once again, for our turn to play our favorite game. Sometimes, even just to enroll in a class, Dartmouth asks us to wait. This waiting will not stop after graduation, and we are very frustrated by this, because waiting essentially means doing nothing. The act of doing nothing is a concept that is almost unheard of in the digital age, and it is unfairly seen as a waste of time. 

To avoid doing nothing, we skip the lines with apps like Snackpass or GET. In the case of KAF, a group of students have developed a website to tell us exactly how long we have to do nothing for, and if the number is too large, we don’t even bother. With constant access to our phones, we last maybe a few minutes of doing nothing while waiting in line before surrendering to the rectangle of temptation that rests in our front pockets. Smart phones have allowed us to essentially never have to consciously do nothing ever again. As a result, we have lost our aptitude to do nothing. 

This is concerning, because doing “nothing” is actually quite important. Even on a college campus, doing nothing is not a waste of time, because when we are doing nothing, we’re not really doing nothing. 

 Perhaps the most sacred time for doing nothing is right before bed. While we wait in line for sleep, our mind tends to wander. As a kid, I used to have my best ideas right before I went to bed. In fact, I kept a notepad and a pen on my bedside table to write down any ideas I had before I fell asleep. These ideas would later turn into jokes, inventions or stories. There was an elevated level of clarity that could be achieved when my mind could take a direction of its own. This clarity has been stolen by a crescendo of social media, blaring in our heads around the clock. 

Before bed, I watch YouTube, Netflix or the “influencers” of Instagram who do exactly as their name implies. Nothing’s most sacred hour has been hijacked by headphones wedged between my eardrum and the pillow, relaying a voice into my head that is not my own. Regardless of the time of day, the voices in my head are rarely my own. 

We shouldn’t have to wait until bedtime to discover which of the voices flowing through our heads belongs to us. Seizing opportunities throughout the day to consciously do nothing, such as waiting in line, will allow us to access the creativity and deep thinking that used to be the opening act for my dreams. 

When we are doing “nothing,” we are thinking and crafting our voices. As a result, neglection of nothing not only threatens our creativity, but it also strips us of our ability to self-reflect. We lean on the voices of others and are often riddled with indecision because we have so little experience in considering what we think. 

The lack of nothing in our lives has created a distance between our very existence and the inner voice that is supposed to accompany it. When you are forced to do nothing, you become increasingly familiar with and more confident in your own voice. The opportunity to consciously do nothing leaves a blank canvas for the tortured artist of our minds to fill. We should cherish the time we have waiting in line, because wasting time is anything but a waste of time. 

In some ways, this is why I write columns: not so much to share my opinions, but to discover them. A couple times per term, I sign up to share what I think, and in the brainstorming stage, I am often met with a mosaic of what everybody else thinks. 

The antidote that prevents my voice from blending in with everyone else’s? Nothing.