Balk: Is anything really a waste of time?


Tim Balk, Assistant Opinion Editor

I recently had a debate with a fellow Northwestern student about whether or not video games represent a worthwhile way to spend time. Sports video games, he insisted, had significantly improved his sports knowledge.

Just a few hours later I found myself in a discussion about the cultural value of professional sports with my brother. He argued that pro sports are a distraction from things that matter, a useless leisure activity providing folks with a “false sense of intellectual stimulation.” I was unconvinced. “Isn’t everything a distraction from others things?” I retorted.

I believe pro sports are valuable and I devote a significant amount of my time to reading about, watching and following them. I do not feel the same way about video games, which I rarely indulge in. But who is to say what’s a worthwhile way to spend time? And what components of culture are more or less valuable?

For me, this is a defining question of life. I constantly prioritize and reprioritize the ways I spend my time, like a chef trying to find just the right mix of ingredients to achieve a perfect dish. College makes the balance even harder.

Take Tuesday night. I have a laundry list of things I’d like to do. I still have not, to my great disappointment, seen Black Mass, and I’d like to hit up the movie theater. Then there’s the Democratic primary debate. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and three guys nobody cares about. I have to watch that, right? What about the Mets-Dodgers playoff game, the jog I’m due for, the dinner I need to eat, the copy of Monday’s New York Times I scooped up and keep saying I am going to read, the internships I still need to apply for and the homework for my Wednesday classes? I even stress about how to spend my free time, all with the recognition that I might just spend my evening wasting away on Facebook, accomplishing nothing on my to-do list.

This raises the ultimate question: If I do just stare at Facebook, is there anything wrong with that? Is there really a right or wrong way to spend time? Or to live life?

My answer: no. There is no right or wrong lifestyle. No correct way to spend time. I might have to eat my words regarding video games.

Part of the magic of life, though, is that each action reaps its own benefits. Humans are in a constant state of learning, whether they are playing video games, reading the news or simply lying in the grass staring at the stars.

There is no best way to balance activities or education. Education itself merely leaves its learners with a different set of skills and knowledge than those who miss out.

College students, for example, miss out on the experiences of those who do not attend college and vice versa.

What, then, of my brother’s argument about differing values of different cultural institutions? The validity of his view really depends on what you think makes activities valuable. Pro sports, after all, do have the potential to advance social justice, although their positive effects on society are often incidental and ancillary.

This merely puts pro sports on par with music or the arts.

All add to the fabric of culture and to the human experience. There is no putting a value on that.

The value of time, meanwhile, is equally ineffable. How you spend it is up to you. But don’t worry that you are spending it the wrong way. Because in 200,000 years on earth, humans have yet to define the right way, and we may not fully comprehend the true benefits of many activities we find enjoyable.

Tim Balk is a sophomore in Medill . He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.