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How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

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This thrilling critique of the forces vying for our attention re-defines what we think of as productivity, shows us a new way to connect with our environment and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about our selves and our world. When the technologies we use every day collapse our experiences into 24/7 availability, platforms for personal branding, and product This thrilling critique of the forces vying for our attention re-defines what we think of as productivity, shows us a new way to connect with our environment and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about our selves and our world. When the technologies we use every day collapse our experiences into 24/7 availability, platforms for personal branding, and products to be monetized, nothing can be quite so radical as… doing nothing. Here, Jenny Odell sends up a flare from the heart of Silicon Valley, delivering an action plan to resist capitalist narratives of productivity and techno-determinism, and to become more meaningfully connected in the process.


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This thrilling critique of the forces vying for our attention re-defines what we think of as productivity, shows us a new way to connect with our environment and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about our selves and our world. When the technologies we use every day collapse our experiences into 24/7 availability, platforms for personal branding, and product This thrilling critique of the forces vying for our attention re-defines what we think of as productivity, shows us a new way to connect with our environment and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about our selves and our world. When the technologies we use every day collapse our experiences into 24/7 availability, platforms for personal branding, and products to be monetized, nothing can be quite so radical as… doing nothing. Here, Jenny Odell sends up a flare from the heart of Silicon Valley, delivering an action plan to resist capitalist narratives of productivity and techno-determinism, and to become more meaningfully connected in the process.

30 review for How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

  1. 5 out of 5

    Truce

    First, I understand the negative reviews of this book. The title is misleading as this is not at all a how-to on unplugging or leaving social media (for that, maybe read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism or Catherine Price’s How to Break Up With Your Phone). Instead it’s a really well-researched book on some abstract and sometimes seemingly esoteric concepts: the self, attention, bioregionalism, what it means to refuse/resist in place, and the effects of late stage capitalism on all of the above. First, I understand the negative reviews of this book. The title is misleading as this is not at all a how-to on unplugging or leaving social media (for that, maybe read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism or Catherine Price’s How to Break Up With Your Phone). Instead it’s a really well-researched book on some abstract and sometimes seemingly esoteric concepts: the self, attention, bioregionalism, what it means to refuse/resist in place, and the effects of late stage capitalism on all of the above. There is really no how-to in this book, and I don’t think Odell’s work here can be even halfway summarized with buzzwords like “mindfulness” or “digital detox” or whatever. The bulk of this book is about the things that we are unable to do when our attention is tied up in social media or the news cycle. Yes, at the most basic level, social media and the news cycle take away our ability to reflect and think deeply about what’s actually happening underneath the status updates and headlines. But beyond that, it can erode our relationships with other people, with time, and with the environment around us. What parts of our identities get lost when we boil all of our ideas down to 280-character tweets that offend no one? When we think of people as brands and corporations as people, how does that effect our ability to actually connect with others or even with ourselves? Odell first asks us to rethink the idea of “usefulness” and to really challenge this tendency to think of time and attention as commodities, something we’ve mostly taken for granted in the gig economy. She uses an example of an old-growth redwood tree in Oakland that is useless for human consumption — ironically it is its “uselessness” that saves it from being cut down for timber, making it the only tree of its generation to survive. They even call it “Old Survivor.” Yes, there are parts of the book that were near-inaccessible. Many of her descriptions of art exhibits were difficult to grasp, and her focus on bioregionalism was sometimes challenging to get through. I imagine there are a lot of us who just don’t see ourselves giving up our phones for a life of birdwatching or going to symphonies where a pianist plays nothing for three movements. But I thought of those parts as stretching my limits of understanding — this book was kind of a key to get me to try to pay attention to something different. I did, admittedly, download the iNaturalist app after reading this book. What I appreciate about Odell’s approach is that she earnestly considers race and class in the how and why of resisting the attention economy. When reading Digital Minimalism, I found Newport had some stark blind spots — he says little of race and class, and women were conspicuously absent from his book. In contrast, Odell’s references are wonderfully diverse; yes, she references Thoreau a lot, but she also draws wisdom from Audre Lorde, labor movements, and environmental justice, among many other things. She provides historical context to all this, as an antidote to social media’s tendency to keep us forever anxious about the present. Also, while other books about the same topic tend to treat the hijacking of our attention and the tyranny of algorithms as foregone conclusions, thereby making digital detoxing seem like a life or death situation, Odell manages to avoid sensationalizing and instead invites us to another way. What had me screaming “YAS QUEEN” at my Kindle was the stuff she had to say about the right to not express oneself. I am a writer, but in the past two years I rather counterintuitively deleted my Twitter and Facebook accounts (my whole platform!) because I was so f*cking tired of reading everyone’s hot takes and of the pressure of having to constantly post hot takes myself. I wanted silence, the time and space to actually think my own thoughts about a situation or event or thing. I also really wanted to consider the question of what makes an opinion worth expressing and why. I truly thought I stood alone on this, that maybe I was just bitter because I haven’t been able to quit my day job for “a job in social media that I’m passionate about” that seemingly everyone on Twitter has. It was comforting and refreshing to know that someone out there felt the same way and was able to articulate those feelings much better than I ever could.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Felicia Edens

    I found an Advanced Reader's Copy of this book at the library where I work, so I was able to read this before the public gets to it this April. None of the other librarians had taken it, and I usually don't end up reading ARCs, but after looking at the cover a couple times, I found myself genuinely intrigued. As I finished the first chapter, I knew that I was going to read the entire thing. I am personally in a state of constant love and hate as well as inspiration and anxiety in terms of my rel I found an Advanced Reader's Copy of this book at the library where I work, so I was able to read this before the public gets to it this April. None of the other librarians had taken it, and I usually don't end up reading ARCs, but after looking at the cover a couple times, I found myself genuinely intrigued. As I finished the first chapter, I knew that I was going to read the entire thing. I am personally in a state of constant love and hate as well as inspiration and anxiety in terms of my relationship to social media (particularly Instagram), and this book spoke volumes to me about a term that is curiously not found anywhere within these pages: mindfulness. Odell probably omitted that word intentionally, as her goal in her personal and business life does not want to seduce readers into "hot" and "trending" terminology, as we know mindfulness has become over the past few years. Instead, she clearly explains her goals with the book right away, determined to tell us that How To Do Nothing: Resisting The Attention Economy is not about convincing anyone to delete their social media accounts or to optimize their life via a mindset based on positivity or to learn how to focus on what it is *you* really want rather than caring about what others are telling you to want. Nor is it a scathing critique of the political and/or libidinal economy. Rather, what Odell is talking about in her book is this: simply, a contemporary understanding of time and space. But instead of these terms becoming vague philosophical abstractions, she roots the concepts of time and space in a sensible context: that of the here and now. Odell does not hide behind a mask of non-identity. She talks about where she grew up in California, her half-Filipino identity (despite never being to the Philippines), her experiences in the fast-paced corporate world of Silicone Valley, her boyfriend, her father, her friends, her home life and hobbies (bird watching), her affinity for the art-world, and more... she uses all of her experiences to draw out a fascinating map of history, geography, and present socio-political circumstance that surprisingly - at least for the next few years - will be able to speak to everyone that grew up with the proliferation of technology. Taking this personal vantage point, Odell traces back to the communes of the 1960s - explains what worked about them and what didn't (prepare yourself for a brilliant deconstruction of social design versus social activism). She goes back to Ancient Greece and reminds us of the cynic Diogenes, who lived life of resistance among the very community he denounced. She describes something that happened not too long ago in California: the strike of longshoremen who were over-worked by manual labor and the string of problems they encountered and how they began to work to solve them. How does this work into her title: *How To Do Nothing?* Well, her argument is that (and I agree), sometimes when you "do" nothing, you actually begin to pay attention to what's actually happening outside of yourself and consequently begin to engage with the world in a new, more nuanced, and intentional way, a way that understands context (which can be horrifyingly forgotten in the virtual realm), and a way that understands the self in relation to everything else. In a word, doing nothing enables us to interact with the environment *intelligently*. Using herself as an example, she explains her love for art via a review of her fascination with the art of David Hockney, via her interpretations of Thoreau, via her analysis of writers native to this land. She comes up with the concept of bioregionalism: an acknowledgement of the natural world that is understood as both specific to geography yet contingent on all other geographies within the world. You will find much about the expected (or not) topic of exploitative algorithms of current internet platforms. A topic always due for a reiteration. Keep in mind that this information is coming from first hand accounts of someone who worked in the industry for a time. Most importantly, you will find much about a form of presence that is inherently organic and ecological, something I think humanity is dire need of as we go through an almost traumatic, and actually traumatic for many, loss of natural resources. "...we inhabit a culture that privileges novelty and growth over the cyclical and regenerative. Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way." This book is a product of the 21st century, and it by no means intends to bring you something innovative and new. Odell's writing is a reiteration and underlining of stuff we have all heard before: stuff that Odell writes with enough attention, intention, and care that is becomes authentic. Now hurry up and read the book before authenticity becomes the newest commodity. Just kidding. But read the book before it's too late. Voluntate, studio, disciplina!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ken-ichi

    Anyone who has run a public event where you show people other organisms has fielded the horrible, soul-crushing question, "But what does it do?" or worse, "What's it good for?" They're not unreasonable questions, perfectly understandable, human questions really, and at the same time completely maddening to an ardent naturalist, as if you'd just introduced your beloved mother to someone who then asked, "Nice to meet you, but what are you good for?" If I'm feeling forthright, I'll reply, "Nothing, Anyone who has run a public event where you show people other organisms has fielded the horrible, soul-crushing question, "But what does it do?" or worse, "What's it good for?" They're not unreasonable questions, perfectly understandable, human questions really, and at the same time completely maddening to an ardent naturalist, as if you'd just introduced your beloved mother to someone who then asked, "Nice to meet you, but what are you good for?" If I'm feeling forthright, I'll reply, "Nothing, really. What are you good for?" but maybe what I should start doing instead is kidnap the questioner and force them to listen to me read this entire book aloud. On the day last week when this book was published (or the media campaign began) a co-worker linked to it, an online colleague notified me about it, and my partner brought home a copy from one of our favorite bookstores, all totally independent of each other. It quickly became apparent that the author * lives in my town * lives in my old in neighborhood in my town * likes looking at birds and plants * cites Ursula K. LeGuin, Wendell Berry, Westworld, "Bartleby, the Scrivener," East Bay Yesterday, and countless other authors and works that have also passed through my brain at one time or another * uses the natural history recording tool and social network I help maintain Given this overwhelming karmic necessity of at least trying it, I'm happy to report the book hit home. It's awkward trying to summarize a work so concerned with holism, so maybe I won't and just dance around it like I usually do anyway. Odell describes something I have always found particularly compelling about natural history, namely that it is not about you, or not exclusively about you and your species and their concerns, but about all the other things around you, and what a profound relief it is to direct your attention wholly beyond your concerns, culture, economy, religion, etc., and focus on other beings. To Odell it's one manifestation of a mindset of selective attention, the titular "doing nothing" which really means doing anything other than creating value in capitalist terms, an entryway to an attentiveness that leads away from distraction and optimization and toward connections with land, with other organisms, and with other people, but it's also her chosen way to enact that mindset. Despite the fact that Odell cites iNaturalist as an example of tech that can assist with cultivating such attentiveness, it is kind of complicated. She writes, Once, when I was giving a talk on my research for this book at a Stanford urban studies working group, somebody asked whether using iNaturalist wasn't alienating me from the landscape, since it represented an itemizing, scientific view. I answered that while I had to admit it looked that way, the app was a necessary step in the remediation of my ignorance, a temporary crutch. This is something I've thought about a bunch over the years, and I don't think iNat is unambiguously on one side of this dichotomy or the other. I think everyone who finds it rewarding has a bit of that itemizing instinct, and the itemizing mindset *can* be somewhat alienating. Mastery over taxonomy and nomenclature is satisfying in and of itself, and there is a temptation to just name things and move on, to catalog without understanding and observing more about each individual being you behold. Take it too far and you get Pokemon, a mindless leveling-up that is meaningless outside of the game. The camera is also alienating. In addition to physically separating you from your subject, taking a picture often means disturbing your subject, or at least depicting it in an atypical situation (every picture of a wrentit has the bird perching on a twig, in the open, in bright sunlight, while a more typical viewing would be a microsecond glance of that dolefully pale iris peering at you from deep inside the dark center of a coyotebush). I should also point out that we employ many of the distracting devices Odell warns against, from red notifications in the header of our site to annoying emails, and even gamification in certain contexts (largely despite my misgivings; I still maintain the green "Research Grade" label was a bad move, despite people's attachment to it). And, let's face it, the time you spend looking at your phone using iNat in the field is time you're not witnessing the thing you're ostensibly observing. That said, it's also true that I've learned a lot from iNat (as a user, not just as staff). I've used it in the way Odell describes, as a crutch in situations where I was ignorant, particularly while traveling. It has also elaborated on my interests and attentiveness in ways I would never have guessed: I pay attention to butterflies almost entirely because of the infectious interest of someone I met on iNat; I often recognize and appreciate creatures in the field *because* I saw them on iNat; I can't count the number of times I've noticed some novel detail or creature simply because I slowed down to take a picture of something else entirely. Even our computer vision system, which provides the "magical" automatic identifications our software is becoming known for and which could be described as a very shallow way to understand nature, is really the distillation of the sort of attentive focus Odell describes, applied by many thousands of people and delivered quickly by an algorithm. The technical processing is, of course, impressive, but the real value comes from all those people focusing their attention. And the hope is that even if the interaction is shallow, people will want to keep wading toward the depths. Ach, enough about iNat. While this is not really a self-help book, I think one lesson for me is to apply my naturalist's attentiveness more generally. I also share the author's interest in human history, but I haven't really made the leap to engaging in human community (like, actually getting to know different people), let alone to activism. The connection between attentiveness to the natural world and attentiveness to other people doesn't strike me as naturally as it does Odell, but perhaps it would if I was more self-conscious about my attention. Ok, there you go, Goodreads. Monetize my thoughts!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Sampson

    full disclosure i literally only had one page left to read in this book but i left my backpack with it inside a chipotle, anyways it still changed my life

  5. 4 out of 5

    7jane

    Taste: strawberry-flavored hard candy I confess that one of the reasons for picking up this book was the cover art *lol* And I confess that I didn't know what this nothing meant - perhaps for laziness? Four-day work week? But I'm just joking here. The main point is this: stop giving so easily attention to what the media chaos-god is asking from you (and it asks for all), for there is a big source for anxiety, fear, and despair, if things get out of control. Instead take time back: go to places of Taste: strawberry-flavored hard candy I confess that one of the reasons for picking up this book was the cover art *lol* And I confess that I didn't know what this nothing meant - perhaps for laziness? Four-day work week? But I'm just joking here. The main point is this: stop giving so easily attention to what the media chaos-god is asking from you (and it asks for all), for there is a big source for anxiety, fear, and despair, if things get out of control. Instead take time back: go to places of nature - inside-gardens, parks, bigger parks outside town. Go make contact with people, take part in your community, learn of the history of the place you're living in. It is understandable that not all have the financies, time, or supportive people to do many things here, but merely refusing attention from some forms of media can be just the right little things, even if the time doing so it little too. The author is an artist, writer, and teaches at Stanford University. I loved her enthusiasm about nature, her dedication to her city. I loved encountering familiar things: Epicurus, Thomas Merton, Diogenes, Melville's "Bartleby The Scrivener", Thoreau, David Hockney, John Cage, Martin Buber, Emily Dickinson, DF Wallace, Audre Lorde, radio stations (I miss good radio stations). The book is laid out like this: 1.Chapter (the original text (from spring 2017) from which things were expanded into the book): a case for nothing, the basic message of the book 2.Chapter: why it is better to stay and try where you live, instead of "escaping the world" into the countryside communes (there's a large point of criticism against libertarians here) 3.Chapter: refusal-in-place, some history, why only some can afford this and what one can do instead 4.Chapter: a look into art, some personal reflections in new forms of attention 5.Chapter: what her ideal online network would be, why progress isn't always the word, but doing instead repair for progress's damage Mention of a book I need to read J.Ackerman's "The Genius Of Birds". Mention of what the word 'relatives' used to mean (page 28 of my book). The interesting thing of suddenly being able to see something of your interest everywhere (fe. birds, certain number, pregnant women...) Checking out what Paul Klee's "Angelus Novus" painting looks like. What I got out of it: (view spoiler)[ * go often into nature, do nothing or do little while there. checking the nature when you're traveling can also be interesting. learn about animals and plants and places near you. * have a humble, ethical life * take part in nature protection, support and visit your local culture things (museums, libraries, community) * question "productivity", hysteria and fears sparked up in media (like digging up old tweets etc.) * try mindfulness. do deep listening (listening-to-everything around you). do deep watching (take in all things and their details). * try bird-watching, go biking, read read read * spend time with people, in real life (like chatting, being together, sharing information and opinions) * limit your time in media (incl. news). seek and find context to things posted there. * recognise your own moments of prejudice (doing just this alone sparks good growth) * QUESTION things * try NEW things (so you won't limit yourself to things you already are and already like) * value your sleep time (hide spoiler)] I thought this would be a light book on some philosophical ramblings, not necessarily a book I would end up keeping. I was wrong: I got numerous ideas, numerous realizations from reading this book. The author didn't sum up her points at the end, so making notes of them while reading was a good idea (see some above). Surpsing and very worth it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy Wu

    Collective self-help for middle-class leftist intelligentsia. Has the feeling of taking a leisurely stroll with your loony hippie friend who is at once an overeducated ecosocialist and a crackpot Zen mind-hacker. You have no idea why she loves birdwatching so much (to her it's a proto-spiritual experience, to you it seems superficially like playing Pokémon Go) nor can you figure out how she affords to live on the Oakland-Piedmont border without a full-time job. The slick meta-takeaway is that th Collective self-help for middle-class leftist intelligentsia. Has the feeling of taking a leisurely stroll with your loony hippie friend who is at once an overeducated ecosocialist and a crackpot Zen mind-hacker. You have no idea why she loves birdwatching so much (to her it's a proto-spiritual experience, to you it seems superficially like playing Pokémon Go) nor can you figure out how she affords to live on the Oakland-Piedmont border without a full-time job. The slick meta-takeaway is that the very act of reading this book is an exercise in the kind of deliberate anti-productivity that Odell is urging. Can't decide if this is 2 or 4 stars so I'll give it a 3.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Vicki

    It's hard for me to reconcile that the fundamental things the author talks about in this book: the attention economy, its link to capitalism, how we all need to slow down and think about what we're doing, are all true, and yet the tone is just so smug, lecturing, and talking down at the reader from the lofty heights of liberal academia, as opposed to rooted in the real world where the reader is, with the problem at hand. To give you an idea of one of the sentences: "If we think about what it mea It's hard for me to reconcile that the fundamental things the author talks about in this book: the attention economy, its link to capitalism, how we all need to slow down and think about what we're doing, are all true, and yet the tone is just so smug, lecturing, and talking down at the reader from the lofty heights of liberal academia, as opposed to rooted in the real world where the reader is, with the problem at hand. To give you an idea of one of the sentences: "If we think about what it means to 'concentrate' or 'pay attention' at an individual level, it implies alignment: different parts of the mind and even the body acting in concert and oriented towards the same thing." Why not just say, "Concentrating means the body and the mind working together"? The whole book is like this, very hard to get through, meandering through the author's personal journey and a checklist of philosophers who are too much to take in at times. It's a real shame, because the message, at its core, is very good.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chessa

    Like others, this book is not what I was expecting. I was expecting more of a how-to, self-help book but instead this is a very heady, very academic and well-researched treatise on attention, culture, and our society at large. I didn’t get to finish because of a slew of family events, but what I read I did...respect? I never was excited to pick the book back up, but once I did I always found the author’s arguments original and well-founded - I found myself wanting to highlight a LOT. This book i Like others, this book is not what I was expecting. I was expecting more of a how-to, self-help book but instead this is a very heady, very academic and well-researched treatise on attention, culture, and our society at large. I didn’t get to finish because of a slew of family events, but what I read I did...respect? I never was excited to pick the book back up, but once I did I always found the author’s arguments original and well-founded - I found myself wanting to highlight a LOT. This book is for deep thinkers, armchair philosophers, and those interested in peeling back the layers of our constructed reality.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Highsmith's Snail

    A very short review which doesn't do justice to this book: yes, I was taken by the self-helpy title. I was hoping that it would provide some guidelines based on extensive research into how we all get hooked on refreshing feeds full of people we don't know talking about things that we pretty much instantly forget about as soon as we close our browser (that's just me, maybe). Instead, I got birds. This is fine! I don't dislike birds, although I am not keen on the finding-self-in-nature essay/book. A very short review which doesn't do justice to this book: yes, I was taken by the self-helpy title. I was hoping that it would provide some guidelines based on extensive research into how we all get hooked on refreshing feeds full of people we don't know talking about things that we pretty much instantly forget about as soon as we close our browser (that's just me, maybe). Instead, I got birds. This is fine! I don't dislike birds, although I am not keen on the finding-self-in-nature essay/book. They all sound same to me, as much as I very vaguely want to be that kind of person. Jenny Odell champions bioregionalism, which, according to wiki, means 'advocacy of the belief that human activity should be largely constrained by ecological or geographical boundaries rather than political ones'. This attention to our surroundings is needed urgently (climate change), while being 'grounding', and a way of defying the gravitational pull of social media and its monetising of our time, attention and self-expression. This is a very simple take on her complicated argument, but either way, you'll learn a lot about the East Bay area, because Odell has learnt a lot about it since she's been practicing bioregionalism. I felt like she needed to make much stronger connections to what the book is ostensibly about (resisting the attention economy). In the first half, she does address this but v unsatisfactorily in my opinion. I mean, adopting a Bartleby pose of 'I would prefer not to' seems so...depressing. I'm very into the idea of questioning the terms of the question posed (in debates, in political coverage, on social media) but how do we set out an alternative vision after that? Personally I hate those reviews that are like 'this is not exactly the book that I was looking for' but I do feel that this book is essentially an extended personal essay. There are great sections - I had never heard of Diogenes, though I had heard of the lamp story, and performance art is so much more interesting and radical than I had thought - but the focus on the very particular (which is what she argues for, I guess) meant there was less of the juicy stuff. For example, I'd like to know more about persuasive design and ethics (though googling would probably turn up a ton of articles). At one point, Odell critiques the focus on the designers because it suggests that we - the users of social media - have no responsibility of our own. But that's like claiming that advertising had no responsibility in making people buy cigarettes or something. And on a very basic level, so many people have to use social media for work and general life and activism. She doesn't say 'stop using social media altogether' but I think there's just a lot more flexibility in her schedule as a professor/artist than afforded to the average person. I guess...I'd like to read a book about how we retain a sense of self in the social media age? I also noticed that there wasn't a great variety of voices in her writing. There are other artists, yes, but not...non-artists. Who are the other people using social media? Anyway, there are definitely good bits (such as the fascinating history of communes) but I was not invested in Odell's personal journey, which I think you'd really have to be to appreciate this.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Subashini

    "It's tempting to conclude this book with a single recommendation about how to live. But I refuse to do that. That’s because the pitfalls of the attention economy can’t just be avoided by logging off and refusing the influence of persuasive design techniques; they also emerge at the intersection of issues of public space, environmental politics, class, and race." This is not at all a how-to, but a multidisciplinary work on engaging with the world outside of the corporate-controlled attention econ "It's tempting to conclude this book with a single recommendation about how to live. But I refuse to do that. That’s because the pitfalls of the attention economy can’t just be avoided by logging off and refusing the influence of persuasive design techniques; they also emerge at the intersection of issues of public space, environmental politics, class, and race." This is not at all a how-to, but a multidisciplinary work on engaging with the world outside of the corporate-controlled attention economy. It's dense and philosophical, incorporating theory, art criticism, tech, and nature writing. It made me see differently and want to exist differently. I love books that do that. We need more books to remind humans of our place in the vast planet—and to put us in our place. Similarly, we should resist low-key dehumanisation by corporations. We should not have to resist having our lives instrumentalised and reduced to the value of "eyeballs" on a website so that a small coterie of people can profit off of it, and yet here we are. This is about doing nothing, but it takes a whole book to explain how "doing nothing" is another way of doing a whole lot of something that is outside the logic of capitalism. We are all more than our value to capital. I appreciate a lot of the points Odell makes and am glad that books like this exist.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Guillaume Morissette

    This book rules, this felt so good to read

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    While "How to Do Nothing" is certainly more eye-catching, the subtitle "Resisting the Attention Economy" more accurately gets at Odell's larger project. Rather than snappy bits of advice, Odell instead offers us an extended meditation on how our world is being fundamentally restructured in a way so as to suspend us in an uneasy eternal present of context-less information, perpetually filling up the mental space needed to contemplate, process, and react. What I found wonderful—but I can imagine i While "How to Do Nothing" is certainly more eye-catching, the subtitle "Resisting the Attention Economy" more accurately gets at Odell's larger project. Rather than snappy bits of advice, Odell instead offers us an extended meditation on how our world is being fundamentally restructured in a way so as to suspend us in an uneasy eternal present of context-less information, perpetually filling up the mental space needed to contemplate, process, and react. What I found wonderful—but I can imagine is a source of frustration for some—is the circuitous routes Odell wanders down, which allows her reader to circle around and suddenly see familiar scenarios/habits/patterns from unexpected perspectives (her book "is less a lecture than an invitation to take a walk," she admits in the first few pages). I'm not widely read in this mode of writing, but Rebecca Solnit and Terry Tempest Williams come to mind as comparisons. On a more personal note, I loved how deeply rooted in Oakland and the East Bay area this book is, as opposed to San Francisco proper—another subtle way Odell manages to constantly position herself in an interestingly off-centered places to encourage the reader down different avenues of understanding and thought.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sweetheart Seer

    *I was sent an e-arc from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.* Let's start with the negatives and work our way to the positives to end on a high note, shall we? The Bad: ♤ Bogged down with information dump at times. ♤ Not very cohesive at times/jumping around too much. ♤ Not as engaging as I thought it would be. ♤ Odd topic changes and reaches to try to make certain information fit that didn't feel right or necessary. Like, more should be edited out to make the points better and not over expl *I was sent an e-arc from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.* Let's start with the negatives and work our way to the positives to end on a high note, shall we? The Bad: ♤ Bogged down with information dump at times. ♤ Not very cohesive at times/jumping around too much. ♤ Not as engaging as I thought it would be. ♤ Odd topic changes and reaches to try to make certain information fit that didn't feel right or necessary. Like, more should be edited out to make the points better and not over explain as much. ♤ Overuse of phrase "I can't help but wonder" like, okay Carrie Bradshaw. ♤ Strong political slant. ♤Too many big sections of quotes were used. Now for the good stuff: ♡ Several good points made. ♡ VERY well researched. ♡ Clear points of not trying to completely abandon social media, but rather to make good use of it and not let it consume you. ♡ Included references to HBO show "Westworld" ♡ All the talk on bird watching. Seriously, ever since I read "Odd Birds: by Ian Harding, I enjoy me some books on birding. The good stuff was really good, but the bad was just too bad. I was so tempted to rate it at a three, but the bad weighed in heavier for me here and it just is what it is. Worth a read, but maybe skim the extra stuff to get the main points cause it dragged on and on in a lot of spots where it didn't need to.

  14. 5 out of 5

    tinaathena

    One of those books that, while reading, I'd stop people at random to read whole pages to them. I anticipated that I would like this book, since it aligns with my principles of being a ~ l a z y ~ person, I was really impressed and surprised with the quality of writing. The joy and affection for the natural world is very palpable through Jenny Odell's prose and I found it deeply affecting. Throughout reading this book, I've been able to re-focus my lens on the wonder and beauty of the world aroun One of those books that, while reading, I'd stop people at random to read whole pages to them. I anticipated that I would like this book, since it aligns with my principles of being a ~ l a z y ~ person, I was really impressed and surprised with the quality of writing. The joy and affection for the natural world is very palpable through Jenny Odell's prose and I found it deeply affecting. Throughout reading this book, I've been able to re-focus my lens on the wonder and beauty of the world around me, understand art criticism in a new way, and reinforce a certain intimacy and curiosity in the relationships that I foster with friends, colleagues and strangers. I appreciated how Odell articulated the activism inherent in the act of "doing nothing," and while the book didn't centre around social inequities and climate justice, it was wholly embedded in the text. This book came at exactly the right time for me. I feel like I'm over-selling this book now but I hope that people give it a chance!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Vipassana

    I read this book in public spaces and was often asked what the book was about. I'd say, "It sounds like a self-help book but it's not." Having finished it, I think it is a self help book but structured unlike most books of the genre. Jenny Odell provides not only recommendations on how to interact with time and space in an age when our attention is someone's money, but she also shares the context within which she developed these recommendations. Her recommendations don't have the faux authoritat I read this book in public spaces and was often asked what the book was about. I'd say, "It sounds like a self-help book but it's not." Having finished it, I think it is a self help book but structured unlike most books of the genre. Jenny Odell provides not only recommendations on how to interact with time and space in an age when our attention is someone's money, but she also shares the context within which she developed these recommendations. Her recommendations don't have the faux authoritative tone that many self help books take. She recommends embracing bioregionalism to combat the forces vying for our minds. However, given the foundation she lays before concluding at bioregionalism could build to different activity that would serve the same purpose Beyond self-care and the ability to really listen, the practice of doing nothing has something broader to offer us: an antidote to the rhetoric of growth. In the context of health and ecology, things that grow unchecked are often considered parasitic or cancerous. Yet we inhabit a culture that privileges novelty and growth over the cyclical and the regenerative. Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way. Thought and deliberation require incubation space and time, and our attention spans attuned to a succession of 280 characters struggle to create that space not only at the individual level but also humanity's collective attention and action struggles to create sustained action. (view spoiler)[Zeynep Tufecki's book, Twitter and Teargas talks about the difference in the kind of action social media spurs and would be a great companion to Odell's book. (hide spoiler)] Jenny Odell critiques the most popular voices of the time well spent movement that seeks to address our paucity of attention. It uses neatly consumerist language that requires humans to spend time in a productive way. Should we instead let go of the teleological nature that we live in? Odell says yes. -- July 2019

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jay Smith

    Delightful book to read, though I’m not quite sure that the author’s wandering argument that social media can (and should) be replaced by bioregionalism (in her case, replacing time spent on Facebook with bird-watching) can be extrapolated to a universal solution for everyone everywhere (for someone else, less Facebook, more marathon running might work; or, for an isolated victim of a hate crime in an impoverished country, maybe connection to a global network is more crucial than placid nature w Delightful book to read, though I’m not quite sure that the author’s wandering argument that social media can (and should) be replaced by bioregionalism (in her case, replacing time spent on Facebook with bird-watching) can be extrapolated to a universal solution for everyone everywhere (for someone else, less Facebook, more marathon running might work; or, for an isolated victim of a hate crime in an impoverished country, maybe connection to a global network is more crucial than placid nature walks). Though the book argues more for a middle ground of moderation versus quitting all social media, it doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing what that might look like, on a day to day basis. But the discussion it raises about the downside of the “attention economy” is well worth reading, even when it starts to sound a little like a college student’s essay expanded to book-length dissertation. I wanted very much to see this book address the downside of social media in a cohesive way, but it kept wandering and swerving, never quite pulling all the pieces together. Some writers excel at wandering (Lawrence Weschler, Rebecca Solnit, Oliver Sacks), managing to weave a tapestry around a theme. Odell hasn’t quite reached that level. Still— all in all— a thought-provoking book with some honest observations that need to be heard.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jocelyn

    WOW. I absolutely love this book. It was exactly what I needed right now. I love Odell's approach to our current culture and how to potentially heal it. Her concept of "do nothing" is not really doing nothing, it's just not succumbing to the attention economy or the culture of achievement/disruption/hustle and grind/progress for progress' sake/ etcetcetc. Instead, we should embrace the concept of just maintaining something or being the stewards of something (including nature, culture, our lives WOW. I absolutely love this book. It was exactly what I needed right now. I love Odell's approach to our current culture and how to potentially heal it. Her concept of "do nothing" is not really doing nothing, it's just not succumbing to the attention economy or the culture of achievement/disruption/hustle and grind/progress for progress' sake/ etcetcetc. Instead, we should embrace the concept of just maintaining something or being the stewards of something (including nature, culture, our lives and mental health). One of her arguments that really hit home for me was about how current technology, media, and culture is robbing us of our time and money, thus creating a fractured society unable to focus our sustained attention on group goals to create real change. I feel and see that so much right now with some activism spaces. It's kind of heart breaking. But I felt comforted in her concept of manifest dismantling, where we intentionally undo the damage that has been done to all our spaces (physical, emotional, internal) and then, instead of rebuilding something to fill that space we just leave it open and maintain it minimally to allow it to flourish on its own. Maybe that looks like getting off of social media and starting to go to community meetings, Maybe you say hi to your neighbors more often and get to know them, maybe it's starting to go for runs or walks without your phone or music, maybe it's starting a community garden. This book is very academic and touches on many fascinating concepts. It's hard for me to summarize or really talk about all the reasons I loved it. I know I will be reading it again in the future, and I know that I will be taking some of Odell's ideas to heart and implementing them in my own life. We owe it to ourselves to detach, refocus, and reengage in a more meaningful and deliberate way that does real good in the world.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Paolantonio

    I was excited and eager to read this book after reading about it in Jia Tolentino's essay 'What It Takes To Put Your Phone Away' which mentioned it and partially reviewed it (and others). The cafe I manage is connected to Melville House, the press that published Odell's book, so I eagerly bought it (along with The Muller Report, which they printed which is in the public domain, side note). Odell was asked to give a talk and came up with the title How To Do Nothing. It since has become a book wit I was excited and eager to read this book after reading about it in Jia Tolentino's essay 'What It Takes To Put Your Phone Away' which mentioned it and partially reviewed it (and others). The cafe I manage is connected to Melville House, the press that published Odell's book, so I eagerly bought it (along with The Muller Report, which they printed which is in the public domain, side note). Odell was asked to give a talk and came up with the title How To Do Nothing. It since has become a book with the subtitle: Resisting The Attention Economy. There are six chapters in the book, the first of which is an introductory chapter outlining who she is, her idea of doing nothing, and what she's really all about (the answer is birds). The focus of her central idea is essentially to put your phone down but pick up another hobby. Place your focus elsewhere, Odell argues, throughout the 200 pages here. The large majority of the rest of this book is rooted in the philosophy, art, and environmental activism of others: present and past. I learned a lot about Oakland and The Bay Area's history, its ecological history, and how random acts from artists, again past and present, correspond with Odell's philosophy. After a while it reads like an information dump. At times she name drops artists, poets, activists, podcasters, etc., as friends of hers and their one liners about art and life and how we can all be better at it. I assume it wasn't Odell's intention to slyly mention these folks but it comes across as very Look Who I Know which really started to rub me the wrong way by the umpteenth time. The longer I read the more disappointed I became by Odell's book. The lesson is up front and Odell returns to it over and over again but never goes any further than telling us we need to put our phones down, that is, if we can--she understands that many people rely on social media for work and for social activity--and purposefully place our attention elsewhere. That's it. That's the whole lesson. I found myself underlining certain pieces of philosophy and art throughout the text but it was always long quotes from others' writing, sometimes dating back to ancient Greek philosophy (all the way to Michael Pollan's new book on psychedelics) as advice on how to live. Several chunks of each chapter are quotes from these folks, there is a large index. Otherwise Odell goes deep on the history of Oakland and the Bay Area. I am all for resisting The Attention Economy. Goodreads and Twitter are the only two social media networks I participate in. Goodreads is owned by Amazon which I have a huge problem with but here I am. As a writer I like to keep track books I read and get myself writing about what I'm reading. But the praise and pull quotes on the front and back of this book "this book will change how you see the world" is way overblown. If you want to change your world view read Stamped From The Beginning and engage with art or writing not created out of a speech given by a privileged white woman who teaches art at Stanford. Her initial point of putting down electronics and focusing elsewhere is a great one. But after having read this 200 page manifesto like book, it's the only point she's making. All the others she covers in this book belong to other people. She credits and quotes them at length, which left me craving more from her instead. There is a version of nonfiction personal writing that includes a lot of other philosophy and art. Vignette writing and experimental nonfiction writing is out there (see the most popular: Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts) but this is really just a long tied in list of all the things she researched and found that made her idea stronger or better. I guess she does go off about birds and how bird watching and learning about her own ecosystem and where she grew up changed her world view and how she interacts with her surroundings--which is the main focus of this book other than The Attention Economy. But I didn't sign up for a birder lesson or a history of Oakland and its ecosystems. We all have a birder in us, birder I guess is a stand in for whatever you want to turn your head towards when you turn it away from The Attention Economy, but we all don't have the time and space to wander around rose gardens, parks, and mountains. (Which she addresses as privileged and then right at the end quietly shames single parents who can do no better but put an iPad in front of their kid when they're exhausted at the end of the day. I am also not a parent but this shame feels like a huge oversight. What are we to decide what's best for other people and their children?) This book breaks the fourth wall a lot. She mentions the communal artist space she works in, wrote the book in, and the many retreats she took to cabins alone in order to sit and think alone and write alone on the topic of Doing Nothing. I get it. I wish I could have access to these things as a writer too. But it feels like a filler story to make up pages for a book she was asked to write, which is really just full of others' ideas. Including the backstory of Herman Melville's 'I would prefer not to' which is Melville House's tagline and I wonder about the coincidence here. Did she include that before she knew Melville House was publishing her book? Or did she include it in order to make a cutesy tie in? (Which feels realistic to me because she was asked to write this book and then tells us she sat down to write it. Side note: I also question everything.) Or is it purely a coincidence? This book was interesting and introduced me to a lot of art and philosophy I had never heard of. I agree with it and have already been on a path to reduce my interactions with The Attention Economy before reading it. I recognize I am the target audience to buy this book (a privileged artist white woman) who reads about stuff like this in The New Yorker. And I wonder if I am just continuing a cycle that needs to stop? As I contemplate, always, my relationship with the news and technology and politics, I remember that it is a privilege to look away from it all. Not everyone can turn their head. And the more people do that, the more we all run the risk of accepting behaviors, political or what have you, we run the risk of accepting it as normal. None of this is normal. But I do agree with Odell: putting your phone down or hell not even keeping it next to you at all times, should be more normal. I like what she had to say but this book could've been one really great essay instead of one great essay and then a list of everything she could find to back up her idea. I am disappointed and am going to cut myself off in order to avoid constantly repeating myself, like Odell.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Campbell Disbrow

    this book about doing nothing somehow manages to be about… everything??? Everything includes: -pushing back against capitalist ideas of productivity and optimization and instead valuing observation and maintenance -Busyness as a “symptom of deficient vitality” -we romanticize being overworked because we’ve internalized that producing work is the greatest value we can contribute -the nonsense of the “personal brand” model of identity where we present ourselves as just a set of superficial, rigid, this book about doing nothing somehow manages to be about… everything??? Everything includes: -pushing back against capitalist ideas of productivity and optimization and instead valuing observation and maintenance -Busyness as a “symptom of deficient vitality” -we romanticize being overworked because we’ve internalized that producing work is the greatest value we can contribute -the nonsense of the “personal brand” model of identity where we present ourselves as just a set of superficial, rigid, (easily-marketed-to) opinions and tastes that we’re reluctant to change for fear of compromising that “identity” -American obsession with individualism that refuses to acknowledge the interconnectedness of not only people but also ecosystems, where our identity really ends up being a “fluid product of our interactions with others” -the possible laziness of just deleting social media instead of becoming disciplined enough to understand and resist the ways social media is manipulating and deceiving us: “not fleeing your enemy, but knowing your enemy -training ourself to see other beings not as just "inert matter or...an inefficiency" but as something with their own agency It's a universal recommend honestly but a particular recommend if you're into environmentalism, classical philosophy, crows, community organizing, fine art, UX, trash, 20th century debunked psychologists, Northern California, farming, dfw, or big trees.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Philippe

    Unhelpfully enough I was too impatient while reading this book. Which is all about disengaging from our screens and taking time for observation and for reconnecting with the mundane but vital marginalia of our daily lifeworld. Odell's tone of voice is attractive enough. A sympathetic blend of the feminine and the masculine, of the nerdy and the bohemian. And she is terribly smart and well-read. But for some reason the mix of diary-like excursions and essayistic argumentation didn't gel, this tim Unhelpfully enough I was too impatient while reading this book. Which is all about disengaging from our screens and taking time for observation and for reconnecting with the mundane but vital marginalia of our daily lifeworld. Odell's tone of voice is attractive enough. A sympathetic blend of the feminine and the masculine, of the nerdy and the bohemian. And she is terribly smart and well-read. But for some reason the mix of diary-like excursions and essayistic argumentation didn't gel, this time, for me. And the hard thing, I suppose, is not the reading but the practice. I may, will probably return to this book. 3,5 stars for now.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    this book is what I needed to read all along! I found a shared obsession with birds, a connection between social media and the environment, a beautiful chapter on attention, and a chapter on refusal that talked about Diogenes. I’ll be rereading this over and over during the summer when I go out birdwatching!!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Adriana

    I found Odell to be a great writer, truly. She has an airy, atmospheric and journalistic tone to her prose, while also imbuing her ideas with an impressive amount of supporting research. However, this book doesn't know what it wants to be - a guide for others, or her personal journaling/thesis on how the author lives her life. The basis on which it was written, at first, is to demonstrate resisting a constant state of capitalist productivity - so the idea presented here is for those of us who hav I found Odell to be a great writer, truly. She has an airy, atmospheric and journalistic tone to her prose, while also imbuing her ideas with an impressive amount of supporting research. However, this book doesn't know what it wants to be - a guide for others, or her personal journaling/thesis on how the author lives her life. The basis on which it was written, at first, is to demonstrate resisting a constant state of capitalist productivity - so the idea presented here is for those of us who have drunk the Kool Aid from the Digital Detox movement, realized that it has its own agenda (making sure your time is well spent...in productivity, of course), and are looking for alternate philosophies to navigating today's murky waters, while insisting fishies pulling us in all possible directions... If Cal Newport's Deep Work/Digital Minimalism is at one end of the spectrum, telling you how to free up space in your life for what is important (with the focus, however, being on economically important work/craft), How to Do Nothing is at the other end - this doesn't discuss actually doing nothing at all with your life, but making space for the the ephemeral, soul-growing-type things which make us human, that aren't, and can never be, quantified by an economy as ''useful''. Things such as this can include: communing with nature (sitting in parks, walks, hikes, gardening, the like), connecting with strangers/your community, art (in all contextual mediums), personal activities such as making your own autonomous choices about what to read/watch/enjoy, and others. However, the bulk of Odells' book spends too much of its time explaining the cultural, historical, and empirical evidence for how the author herself ''does nothing'' via birdwatching (bird ''listening'', rather), creating/speaking about art, trying to reconnect with her Bay Area land/neighborhoods...which is all great for her, but doesn't necessarily connect with the reader, and it didn't connect with me at all. Even her final chapter bit about social media provided no new insights other than what you'd probably discuss with your own friends/family or overhear at a coffee shop. While I do appreciate her own insights, I didn't feel that this book accomplished what it sought out to do - ''how'' to do nothing implies a methodology, an organized way of thinking through a process - even if the process is more philosophical than material - which was lacking here. Perhaps this had better been called ''I did Nothing: And Resisted the Attention Economy''.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    I love this book so much. If I had used a yellow highlighter to mark the parts of this book that spoke to me, nearly the entire book would be yellow and I'd have spent a lot of money on yellow highlighters. I know I will return to this book many times as I continue to learn to be present, resisting persuasive design and the attention economy.

  24. 4 out of 5

    S!

    it has been a really long time since i have come across such a generous, kind hearted, open-minded, enlightening book and author. jenny odell has so, so, so much love for this world and because of this she has so much love pouring out of her writing. her writing moved me to tears various times, no joke, because she so effortlessly highlights how wonderful humanity and nature can be. i’m really grateful for this book. this is easily one of my favorite books of the year so far and maybe one of the it has been a really long time since i have come across such a generous, kind hearted, open-minded, enlightening book and author. jenny odell has so, so, so much love for this world and because of this she has so much love pouring out of her writing. her writing moved me to tears various times, no joke, because she so effortlessly highlights how wonderful humanity and nature can be. i’m really grateful for this book. this is easily one of my favorite books of the year so far and maybe one of the best books i’ve read in the past couple of years. i want to share this book with all my friends and all the strangers around me. (1) this book put to words some ideas that i was in desperate need for and it allowed me to look deep into myself and question many ideas i hold really tightly (this all happened while reading, but i’m sure the real effects will be seen as time passess). mostly the idea that i never achieve many of the things i want? for example, i set myself a couple of goals right, like, mostly about healthy food and drink choices and brushing my teeth before bed, but when faced with the choice i always just “turn my brain off” and do the opposite of what i rationally know i should do…. only in the end to feel bad about it! and i’ve been stuck in this painful cycle for soooo long but you know what the answer is? it’s a matter of attention. of course it is. “turning my brain off” is me shrugging off the responsibility to pay attention to the right choices instead of the wrong ones but in the end i’m only hurting myself. anyway this applies to all the choices i make. it’s about living deliberately and consciously, which may seem and actually is very exhausting sometimes, but is that not my duty to myself? to the world? She writes, “simple awareness is the seed of responsibility.” and you know what also? if i can’t pay attention to the “small” choices that arguably only impact myself… how can i trust myself to pay attention to “bigger” choices that impact others? don’t help others until you’ve put on your own oxygen mask, as they say… (2) which leads to the second point: the truth of the matter is our attention is being controlled and monopolized and commodified by capitalism, by social media, by an intangible, insidious mass that floats and spreads itself to every aspect of our lives. this is completely terrifying, but also thanks to this book i feel a little bit more empowered because my participation to RESIST this and to CHANGE this is relevant, is important, is necessary, is valid. “my work is the work” and what that means is that we can all, should we choose to, do something about the mess we’re in because it’s worth it. the world is not hopeless, though it may seem so. we all have the ability to resist to these mechanisms that exist to make us more productive or make us feel like cogs in the machine or how the news makes us feel depressed or void of feeling or panicked… it’s a completely personalized effort and there’s not right/wrong way, just your own way and i love how ms. odell recognizes, over and over, that there is a privilege involved in being able to, for example, riot at work or go off on a “technology detox” vacation or to spend hours researching for context to denounce an inflammatory tweet, etc, there is a privilege involved it’s true. which is why it’s even more important to look around and see what it is that we can do semi-comfortably (but not too comfortably) and do it anyway. reading this book (buying it or getting it from the library or whatever) seems, to me, like a good place to start. she highlights how the news cycle and social media prey on and build themselves upon the worst aspects of our psyche (envy, hysteria, exaggerations, etc). our calling is to resist these things through a wonderful concept called “resist in place”.... remember the last place they can get to is your mind. don’t let them take that too. resist convention, resist what doesn’t sit right with you, resist anything that goes against your gut-feelings. we owe capitalism SHIT. Jenny writes, “attention may be the last resource we have left to withdraw.” (3) PRODUCTIVITY MEANS NOTHING IF IT’S NOT ROOTED IN GENERATING THE BENEFIT OF OTHERS AND NATURE, IF IT’S NOT ROOTED IN LOVE FOR OTHERS, IN GENEROSITY, IN KINDNESS, IN PASSION. IT MEANS NOTHING. She writes that we live submerged in a “mythology of productivity and progress” but what does productivity and progress even look like and for whom? what’s the use of productivity and progress that lays waste to something that already existed there in the process? or that happens at the expense of something else (ex: mental health). nature, people… they don’t exist or have value based on what they can give or produce, they have value because they ARE. if more people held this mentality we’d be living in a super different world. remember: “i-it” and “i-thou”. i really struggle with this because i want to be the best at everything, it’s such an issue that something i love so much as reading, sometimes i find myself thinking that i’m not being productive while doing it or that i have to be productive about it? like, i have to write a good review or something? it’s so silly???? and who put these ideas in my head??? recognizing how silly this is takes away its power. to do is enough. to do it within a space of love is enough. (4) i loved the emphasis in public spaces. in my “health psychology” class my teacher makes a huge emphasis on public parks as something absolutely necessary to enrich a community’s collective mental health and for a while i’ve been asking myself why? but this book provided a great answer to that. we need spaces that we can all be in without the pressure of having to exchange services or goods, like for example a movie theater or a restaurant. there’s no pressure there, we’re all on the same level because it is simply a public space, accessible to all. that’s beautiful. (5) i love, love, love the reverence and respect and awe with which she wrote about everything from art to birds, to social media, to her teaching, to politics, to indigenous people, to trees and nature, to the past, california, oakland, everything. it’s so clear that she loves this world… and, i have to mention this, never did it feel like it was through a religious or spiritual lens because jenny is, as she puts it, a “quintessential California atheist” (not that there’s anything wrong with or that i’m against the religious or spiritual lens! it was simply nice to hear the similar sentiments expressed with a language I could personally connect to). (6) the world and this life is beautiful and the only way to right our wrongs to it and in it, is to pay attention. so it’s important to understand that, even though things are capital B Bad, we have to move closer to the world, closer to the situations around us, not further away. with our arms outstretched. the poet mary oliver, the movie lady bird, the artist jenny odell….. love and attention are the same thing….. our imperative to love and embrace this world as it truly is and not as we would want it to be. how connected to everything we are, how a part of everything we are. how significant. thank you.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    To-read: first I saw this on Jenny Z's Goodreads, and then I read Felicia Edens' excellent review, which pulled out this quote that intrigues me even further: "...we inhabit a culture that privileges novelty and growth over the cyclical and regenerative. Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way."

  26. 5 out of 5

    David Dinaburg

    I probably saw it at Booksmith on Haight; How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy is the first top-to-bottom Bay Area book that I’ve picked up, the type of book that makes me feel lucky to live under its auspices. I spent a beautiful day at Glen Canyon Park—one of only two open channel creeks in San Francisco! —and I would not have known of it without Do Nothing:When I lived in San Francisco, my usual trail in Glen Canyon Park was named after the “Gum Tree Girls,” three women who kept I probably saw it at Booksmith on Haight; How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy is the first top-to-bottom Bay Area book that I’ve picked up, the type of book that makes me feel lucky to live under its auspices. I spent a beautiful day at Glen Canyon Park—one of only two open channel creeks in San Francisco! —and I would not have known of it without Do Nothing:When I lived in San Francisco, my usual trail in Glen Canyon Park was named after the “Gum Tree Girls,” three women who kept freeways from being built through the canyon, one of the only places in San Francisco where Islais Creek runs aboveground in its natural state. Park don’t just give us the space to “do nothing” and inhabit different scales of attention. Their very existence, especially in the midst of a city or on the former sites of extraction, embodies resistance. Reading this book gave me the same feelings as The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and it healed a wound I feared had spread when I tore myself out of the gravity well of New York Literature; I could still read a text and integrate into my own real life. This awakened sense of bookstore bioregionalism parallels the progression within Do Nothing from noticing birdsong in a forest to being able to distinguish the singer; an invisible-made-visible for the web of literary and cultural creations within one’s place. I am so grateful to have seen the book, because I love its style: of yanking quotes and building textual awareness; of commingling location with experience and thoughts with actions; of supporting research with speculative synthesis. An example—In two quick paragraphs, the author cited a source, referenced personal experience, and harked back to an prior literary touchstone: [from Digital Detox: Big Tech’s Phony Crisis of Conscience]: “They fail to attack the attention economy at its roots or challenge the basic building blocks of late capitalism: market fundamentalism, deregulation, and privatization. The reinforce neoliberal ideals, privileging the on-the-move individual whose time needs to be well-spent—a neatly consumerist metaphor.” For my part, I, too, will remain unimpressed until the social media technology we use is noncommercial. But while commercial social networks reign supreme, let’s remember that a real refusal, like Bartleby’s answer, refuses the terms of the question itself. I particularly love any reference to Bartleby, The Scrivener, though I always related more to the narrator, “...one of those unambitious lawyers who never addresses a jury, or in any way draws down public applause; but in the cool tranquility of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men’s bonds and mortgages and title-deeds.” Not exactly the heart of the story— a heart still relevant in all cultural works—but the mind clamps onto strange things sometimes. Like it did for the story of the Ming Vase from Colour: A Natural History of the Palette. There, the author realized—thanks to her knowledge of historic trade sanctions and mineral resource locales—that she could closely estimate the date centuries-old Chinese pottery was created based on its color. To her, a decontextualized museum piece fans out to encompass the political will and regional structures of Xuande-era cobalt commerce. She sees the threads of history that tie the world together. Just so, the author of Do Nothing can name the bird from the unseen noise from the trees; the lives and meaning of the songbirds of the Bay Area spread out before her, a known network rather than yet another unrecognized noise in the chaos of the world. But for every action, there is an opposite reaction: Spatial and temporal context both have to do with the neighboring entities around something that help define it. Context also helps establish the order of events. Obviously, the bits of information we’re assailed with on Twitter and Facebook feeds are missing both of these kinds of context. Scrolling through the feed, I can’t help but wonder: What am I supposed to think of all this? How am I supposed to think of all this? I imagine different parts of my brain lighting up in a pattern that doesn’t make sense, that forecloses any possible understanding. Many things in there seem important, but the sum total is nonsense, and it produces not understanding but a dull and stupefying dread. The modern decontextualized object is a tweet, a post, a photo. These things are easy to admire for their beauty or cleverness, yet they are artifacts pinned under glass. To recontextualize them into the world—to date the vase or name the bird—requires reflecting on, rather then refreshing, the page. The riptides of the attention economy are strong enough to yank down anyone who wades into the waters. I am not safe and clean on the shore: I love to write these reviews, like to know people read them, recognize I launch for free what used to be paid labor into the stream of commerce. What I want isn’t a life of technological hermitage but one of acknowledgement: recognition that speed and volume cannot replace depth. If I hear a hundred birdsongs a day but remember not a single thing beyond that I hit my hundred-bird goal, what joy is there in making sure I hear a hundred and five tomorrow? The opening of the book serves as a fitting close for a review: Solitude, observation, and simple conviviality should be recognized not only as ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights belonging to anyone lucky enough to be alive….I want this not only for artists and writers, but for any person who perceives life to be more than an instrument and therefore something that cannot be optimized. I love that this book takes you where it wants and lets you decide if you want to follow.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rhea

    Rarely have I resonated with a book on so many levels - sociopolitically, regionally, philosophically. Please read this book and then talk to me about it! Let us resist-in-place together.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Robyn Neville-kett

    I was immediately compelled to read this based on the title and cover art alone. A guidebook on how to do nothing? I am already a self-professed expert at this but am always open to improvement (as long as I can do so from the comfort of my couch, neglecting all other chores and expectations). This ended up being much more highbrow than I expected - the author is a multiplatform artist and instructor at Stanford so I should have known! - and she used a lot of examples of performance art and even I was immediately compelled to read this based on the title and cover art alone. A guidebook on how to do nothing? I am already a self-professed expert at this but am always open to improvement (as long as I can do so from the comfort of my couch, neglecting all other chores and expectations). This ended up being much more highbrow than I expected - the author is a multiplatform artist and instructor at Stanford so I should have known! - and she used a lot of examples of performance art and even good ol' Diogenes as examples to support her thesis. And what is her thesis? It's that doing nothing is an act of political resistance to the attention economy. She says that life is more than an instrument. It's a "....refusal to believe that the present time and place, and the people who are here with us, are somehow not enough. Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram act like dams that capitalize on our natural interest in others and an ageless need for community, hijacking and frustrating our most innate desires, and profiting from them. Solitude, observation, and simple conviviality should be recognized not only as ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights belonging to anyone lucky enough to be alive" (page xi... yes she is knocking it out of the park before the actual page numbers even begin!). She outlines that her argument is anticapitalist (I am SO here for this), especially with capitalist platforms that consume our "...perception of time, place, self and community". She is "...opposed to the way that corporate platforms buy and sell our attention, as well as to designs and uses of technology that enshrine a narrow definition of productivity and ignore the local, the carnal and the poetic". She is "...concerned about the effects of social media on expression - including the right not to express oneself - and its deliberately addictive features. But the villain here is not necessarily the Internet, or even the idea of social media; it is the invasive logic of commercial social media and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy, and distraction" (xii...indeed, we are still in the introduction here, people!). Yes. Yes. Yes. I love her criticism of market-driven social media yet she doesn't renounce or suggest we entirely withdraw from its use (In fact, Odell has a delightful Twitter account that I gave much of my attention economy to yesterday). She believes "...it's hard not to see social media as a contextual monoculture" which disables us from changing our opinions and understanding the opinions of those with whom we initially disagree. As well, the speed of social media, and its roots in sharing only up-to-the-minute information "... threatens visibility and comprehension because it creates an information overload whose pace is impossible to keep up with". I love her reflections of sitting in a local rose garden soon after Trump was elected, just sitting there and being - not reading, not writing, not on her phone, just being - and how she began to appreciate not only the flowers but the birds that surrounded her, to the point where she became a "birder" and learned to identify species and even formed relationships with specific birds (including a night heron she often saw at the local KFC, who she affectionately named the Colonel). It opened up a whole new appreciation for her, of the natural world, and just what "is". She is critical of our society's obsession with the individual, our "...customized filter bubbles, and personal branding - anything that insists on atomized, competing individuals striving in parallel, never touching - (and how it) does the same violence to human society as a dam does to a watershed" and that really is the biggest takeaway for me. Our focus on our individuality, our individual growth, progress, and "success" in the capitalist realm is what's brought us to this point of environmental peril and existential angst. Once we slow down, look up more frequently to the sky with the birds rather than always down to the screens of our capitalist-driven, anxiety-inducing handheld machines, can we begin to THINK, to FEEL, to WRITE VERY LONG AND INDEPTH GOODREADS REVIEWS RATHER THAN SCROLLING MINDLESSLY THROUGH TWITTER. We can begin to heal our environment and connect with the other members of this world, both human and beyond.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nick Klagge

    While superficially similar to "The World Beyond Your Head" by Matthew Crawford, a book that I really disliked, HTDN could not be more different. Dealing with the topics of distraction and the attention economy, this book is all mountain-eroding-water yin, where the other one is all world-mastering yang. I knew I would like this book when my partner was reading it and recounted to me Odell's story about the Old Survivor redwood in Oakland. I said, huh, that sounds a lot like a story from Zhuangzi While superficially similar to "The World Beyond Your Head" by Matthew Crawford, a book that I really disliked, HTDN could not be more different. Dealing with the topics of distraction and the attention economy, this book is all mountain-eroding-water yin, where the other one is all world-mastering yang. I knew I would like this book when my partner was reading it and recounted to me Odell's story about the Old Survivor redwood in Oakland. I said, huh, that sounds a lot like a story from Zhuangzi. And she said, oh yeah, she mentioned that! (Funny story, we were on a trip to Berkeley when she was reading this, and I was reading "Exhalation" by Ted Chiang. We stopped into Books Inc. there, and they had a display shelf called "What Berkeley Is Reading." The two books in the center: HTDN (non-fiction), Exhalation (fiction). So predictable!) It's difficult to say concisely why this is such an excellent book. I found it very densely packed with insight, in a way that is rare for a non-academic book. It never feels like Odell is padding out an essay-length idea to be book length, and while her prose is not difficult to read, I sometimes had to read slowly because there was really a lot to absorb. My partner observed that she has heard a number of podcast or radio interviews with Odell, and each one has focused on something totally different about the book, which is indicative of its richness. Among other things, I appreciated reading Odell's extended discussions of various art pieces and their relations to attention. I am not plugged into the art world at all, while Odell is a professional artist and teacher of art, so this was all new territory for me. But Odell does a great job of conveying insight in a way that was accessible to me. I also felt very compelled by her discussions of bioregionalism, and can confirm that the iNaturalist app (which I downloaded after reading about it in this book) is really fun and has enhanced my appreciation of nature. Perhaps my favorite vignette was about Community Memory, the first electronic bulletin board system, which was established in Berkeley in the early 1970s. I never knew anything about it before! More than anything, this is a book with heart. Odell has such a distinctive and tender outlook on the world (e.g. the story of her ongoing relationship with the two crows that visit her balcony)--if you are not charmed by her, you probably have a heart of stone. And yet it deals with such weighty issues, including decolonization, collective action, and community. I rarely feel like I would like to re-read books, even ones I really liked, but I can well imagine reading this again!

  30. 4 out of 5

    C. S.

    Odell has created a truly special work in this book. While its possible that it's a mixture of the two, I feel like the book was either too smart for me or was just a high level thought experiment. There were several moments while reading where I felt just on the verge of something extremely profound, but ultimately I finished reading with a sense of wanting, which is why I settled on a 4 star rating instead of 5. But since superficially easy answers are also a product/invention of the attention Odell has created a truly special work in this book. While its possible that it's a mixture of the two, I feel like the book was either too smart for me or was just a high level thought experiment. There were several moments while reading where I felt just on the verge of something extremely profound, but ultimately I finished reading with a sense of wanting, which is why I settled on a 4 star rating instead of 5. But since superficially easy answers are also a product/invention of the attention economy, perhaps this isn't fair. Would HIGHLY recommend for artists, writers, thinkers, and ...well, let's go inclusive with "humans"

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