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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. 4 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. 5 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. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Sampson

    full disclosure i literally only 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. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Guillaume Morissette

    This book rules, this felt so good to read

  8. 4 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!!

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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"

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    drl

    "Books that I keep looking for reasons to bring up in conversations" is probably too long of a tag for a Goodreads bookshelf, but thoroughly describes this book.

  15. 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."

  16. 5 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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Avery

    Lately I've been waking up around 6:00 in the morning. Sometimes I think it's because I have to pee; other times I think noises wake me up. I usually try to fall back asleep, an opportunity I am afforded by my bohemian lifestyle. When I awake prematurely, the first thing I observe is often the sound of birds chirping. Normally, I become irritated and fearful that the noise may prevent me from falling back asleep. I mutter to the birds, shut the fuck up already. But yesterday morning, I instead co Lately I've been waking up around 6:00 in the morning. Sometimes I think it's because I have to pee; other times I think noises wake me up. I usually try to fall back asleep, an opportunity I am afforded by my bohemian lifestyle. When I awake prematurely, the first thing I observe is often the sound of birds chirping. Normally, I become irritated and fearful that the noise may prevent me from falling back asleep. I mutter to the birds, shut the fuck up already. But yesterday morning, I instead confronted the chirping for what it was: the hustle and bustle of my neighborhood. Yes, I had just started reading Jenny Odell's How to Do Nothing. I decided that I should take Odell's advice and treat my surrounding area as a complex ecosystem rather than a utilitarian space for my own use. And you know what, I was able to fall back asleep after appreciating an encounter with my feathered neighbors. At first, I found Odell's approach difficult. She quickly jumps between seemingly unrelated topics, anecdotes, and block quotes. I found myself frustrated with chapters two and three specifically, but then things started to come together. It might just be that the book finishes stronger than it starts. Alternatively, it might be that it took me a while to get used to Odell's rhythm. The thing is, the book itself is an example of "doing nothing" in that Odell eschews productivist notions in favor of a meandering labyrinth of a structure. And I think it works. Odell's theory of history, especially her concept of "manifest dismantling", to me seems brilliantly relevant in this political moment. In a time of unprecedented excess alongside material and spiritual impoverishment, modernist notions of progress are untenable. It is apt that Odell cites Walter Benjamin. Before she even did so, I had in the back of my mind his critique of progress, the image of the angel soaking in the pile of rubble. "Manifest dismantling" for me also conjures the degrowth movement in this time of ecological degradation. Perhaps Benjamin was right when he said that "revolutions are the grasp for the emergency brake by the human race travelling on the train.” Maybe doing nothing is the most important thing we'll ever do. UPDATE: Just two hours after finishing this book, I discovered that a bird had entered my house. I can't help but think Odell and the little fella had planned that out from the start.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dani

    While the information in here is good and well-researched, it read like a thesis paper for a somewhat unconventional Ph.D. program. That said, I agree with her premise, loved many of her examples, and only felt my eyes glaze over in certain sections that were probably fascinating to someone more familiar with art history than me. No, the book won't tell you how to do nothing. This was the title of a talk she gave many years ago and doesn't apply literally: "The point of doing nothing, as I define While the information in here is good and well-researched, it read like a thesis paper for a somewhat unconventional Ph.D. program. That said, I agree with her premise, loved many of her examples, and only felt my eyes glaze over in certain sections that were probably fascinating to someone more familiar with art history than me. No, the book won't tell you how to do nothing. This was the title of a talk she gave many years ago and doesn't apply literally: "The point of doing nothing, as I define it, isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive as productive." The book does focus on shifting attention from the hyper-capitalized world of fast 'social' media to the physical realm for, as Odell says, "the physical world is our last common reference point." She emphasizes holding physical spaces sacred since they are often threatened for their inability to 'produce' or be exploited. She talks a lot about bioregionalism and brought up a ton of great points about the importance of knowing thy neighbor—humans, animals, plants—and how that can make you feel less isolated and more grounded. Bonus points for some interesting Bay Area history peppered throughout.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Jack

    How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell feels like the right book at the right time for me. I spend enough time online to worry about what it’s doing to my sense of self. “My experience,” as Odell writes, “is what I agree to attend to". So, when I scroll through my news and social media feeds, I not only get a nonsensical view of the world, but I further alienate myself from myself. Maybe this is why I feel so alone and depressed after spending too much time online. “Expression on social media so often How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell feels like the right book at the right time for me. I spend enough time online to worry about what it’s doing to my sense of self. “My experience,” as Odell writes, “is what I agree to attend to". So, when I scroll through my news and social media feeds, I not only get a nonsensical view of the world, but I further alienate myself from myself. Maybe this is why I feel so alone and depressed after spending too much time online. “Expression on social media so often feels like firecrackers setting off other firecrackers in a very small room that soon gets filled with smoke.” Odell’s solution isn’t to call for a digital detox, but rather to shift and deepen our attention to where it matters most: our actual (rather than online) communities. By paying deeper attention to the context of the people and places of our world, we can move from connectivity (something Facebook holds sacrosanct) to sensitivity, which “involves a difficult, awkward, ambiguous encounter between two differently shaped bodies that are themselves ambiguous.”

  20. 4 out of 5

    Tess Malone

    I have never read a book like this before. Although it may be billed as a self-help book, it's more environmental activism disguised as philosophy with a hearty dose of personal essay. Odell isn't here to tell us how our phones are so addictive or how to get off them, but why it matters. She doesn't want to increase our productivity, but question the capitalist agenda behind it all. Using history, arts criticism, philosophy, and science, she puts all of this in context because the point of this I have never read a book like this before. Although it may be billed as a self-help book, it's more environmental activism disguised as philosophy with a hearty dose of personal essay. Odell isn't here to tell us how our phones are so addictive or how to get off them, but why it matters. She doesn't want to increase our productivity, but question the capitalist agenda behind it all. Using history, arts criticism, philosophy, and science, she puts all of this in context because the point of this book is to add the context back into everything. This book is smart, thoughtful, and very specific. Because Odell's personal solution is biogregionalism, you learn a lot about Oakland's flora and fauna and Odell's particular life because she isn't trying to advocate for a one-size-fits-all solution but a personal look into what resisting can be. It's inspiration, not a template. This book will change how you think and view the world far longer than any phone detox could—and you might even notice birds more.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kat

    A really special book, but at the same time, not for everyone (I will recommend it carefully to certain people who I think will appreciate it!). There are so many wise and profound snippets in this book, but at the same time it can come off a little 'highbrow' or snooty (your typical Bay Area smugness). There are so many references to people and places near and dear to my heart: West Oakland, The Elkhorn Slough, Lake Merritt, Grand Lake Theatre, Walden Pond, Jia Tolentino, Audre Lorde, birdwatch A really special book, but at the same time, not for everyone (I will recommend it carefully to certain people who I think will appreciate it!). There are so many wise and profound snippets in this book, but at the same time it can come off a little 'highbrow' or snooty (your typical Bay Area smugness). There are so many references to people and places near and dear to my heart: West Oakland, The Elkhorn Slough, Lake Merritt, Grand Lake Theatre, Walden Pond, Jia Tolentino, Audre Lorde, birdwatching and generally being in nature. Listen to the Call Your Girlfriend episode from a few weeks ago where they interview Jenny Odell (https://www.callyourgirlfriend.com/ho...) and see for yourself if you'd like the book; I found it a good indicator of what was to come, and was not disappointed!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jeannine

    Because of the ideas in this book I am thinking differently about the natural world and my place in it. The ideas about thinking of nature only in terms of a resource than can be monetized resonated with me, especially as I realized that I had to been taught to experience myself this way. I am now practicing the gradual undoing of this point of view. Interestingly, I went on a bird hike in a local nature preserve and some of the trees were labeled with tags that assigned a monetary value to the Because of the ideas in this book I am thinking differently about the natural world and my place in it. The ideas about thinking of nature only in terms of a resource than can be monetized resonated with me, especially as I realized that I had to been taught to experience myself this way. I am now practicing the gradual undoing of this point of view. Interestingly, I went on a bird hike in a local nature preserve and some of the trees were labeled with tags that assigned a monetary value to the environmental contribution that each tree made annually, knowing that for many people the beautiful being of the tree meant nothing.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Devon DeRaad

    So so so good. I read this after reading digital minimalism, thinking the two would be extremely similar. Instead this book takes a completely different stance. Digital minimalism encourages you to disconnect from the attention economy so that you can be more productive and get ahead. How to do nothing instead asks what it means to be productive and asks who we are being productive for. The idea of resistance in place will stick with me for a long time. May we all have the perspective to see out So so so good. I read this after reading digital minimalism, thinking the two would be extremely similar. Instead this book takes a completely different stance. Digital minimalism encourages you to disconnect from the attention economy so that you can be more productive and get ahead. How to do nothing instead asks what it means to be productive and asks who we are being productive for. The idea of resistance in place will stick with me for a long time. May we all have the perspective to see outside of the questions that society asks us and reject their premises outright.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katie Foster

    I enjoyed reading this book and got a lot out of it. I do wish, however, that it had a different title. "How To Do Nothing" feels very click-baity. Doing Nothing isn't the point of this book - it's doing Something, Anything with a bit more care and attention. I also wish Odell had let herself really dive into her anticapitalist thinking and name it as such. This book to me was much less about putting down your phone/getting off social media and much more about how the machinations of capitalism I enjoyed reading this book and got a lot out of it. I do wish, however, that it had a different title. "How To Do Nothing" feels very click-baity. Doing Nothing isn't the point of this book - it's doing Something, Anything with a bit more care and attention. I also wish Odell had let herself really dive into her anticapitalist thinking and name it as such. This book to me was much less about putting down your phone/getting off social media and much more about how the machinations of capitalism deprive us in all areas of our life, including in our most personal, internal, and private spaces.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Morgane

    Despite what the title may imply, this (thankfully) does not read as yet another generic self-help guide on how to log off. Instead, it's a far more nuanced, lyrical, and ecological reminder to pay attention, to really pay attention. It's not enough to defiantly unplug; we still *do* have to stay connected with the world, with nature, and with other people, but we can do this in a far more sustainable way. This book is ultimately a reminder to be intentional, in every way, and to not fall into d Despite what the title may imply, this (thankfully) does not read as yet another generic self-help guide on how to log off. Instead, it's a far more nuanced, lyrical, and ecological reminder to pay attention, to really pay attention. It's not enough to defiantly unplug; we still *do* have to stay connected with the world, with nature, and with other people, but we can do this in a far more sustainable way. This book is ultimately a reminder to be intentional, in every way, and to not fall into despair. It is a joy to read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    flannery

    I expected this book to be an extended think piece but it's much smarter than that! Very, very well written and well researched. Many things "up my ally," including the problems with dropout culture, the overlap of 60s utopianism and the 20-teens' techno-libertarianism, combined with things up my ally but unknown to me, all very exciting! Recommended for people struggling through "the Age of Surveillance Capitalism" i.e., me, and other people interested in internet critique but burnt out on hot I expected this book to be an extended think piece but it's much smarter than that! Very, very well written and well researched. Many things "up my ally," including the problems with dropout culture, the overlap of 60s utopianism and the 20-teens' techno-libertarianism, combined with things up my ally but unknown to me, all very exciting! Recommended for people struggling through "the Age of Surveillance Capitalism" i.e., me, and other people interested in internet critique but burnt out on hot takes.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cory

    Like most non-fiction: I wish it'd just been a long essay. I felt like she was grasping to make this academic - grounding in philosophy and other classic texts like Bartleby - when it's really a quasi self help book. I soured on her inflammatory use of words like "capitalism" and "algorithms." That said, I loved the Exercises in Attention chapter on a cultivating a disciplined deepening of attention: recognizing when you see things but don't _notice_ them. Reminded me of DFW's "This is Water" sp Like most non-fiction: I wish it'd just been a long essay. I felt like she was grasping to make this academic - grounding in philosophy and other classic texts like Bartleby - when it's really a quasi self help book. I soured on her inflammatory use of words like "capitalism" and "algorithms." That said, I loved the Exercises in Attention chapter on a cultivating a disciplined deepening of attention: recognizing when you see things but don't _notice_ them. Reminded me of DFW's "This is Water" speech. The book's title should just be: "How To Pay Attention"!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Carolee Wheeler

    Although I didn’t feel I fully grasped parts of the thesis put forth, in general this book is 100% recommended by me, and I hope you’ll find _your_ favorite parts so we can get together and talk about what this book made us consider, reconsider, and wring our hands over. 100% guaranteed to change what you think about while you wait for the bus.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ditchface

    A book of necessary theory for untangling ourselves from the idea that relentless productivity is actually productive. It feels like the published equivalent to a deep breath, making clear that pauses, spaces and gaps are needed to sustain ourselves. Plus, it made a solid argument for the joys of birdwatching, which I am now headed out to do.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Micah

    A meandering book that seems to toss out a half-dozen ideas per page, but I enjoyed it. Her proposals for how to fight the "attention economy's" demands on us are less compelling to me than her meditations on why and how that attention economy is so detrimental to our individual and collective health, but given how central the question of the attention economy is to our lives in the twenty-first century, those meditations make the book more than worth reading.

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