How to Do Nothing

Resisting the Attention Economy

256 pages

Published May 21, 2019

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4 stars (9 reviews)

In a world where addictive technology is designed to buy and sell our attention, and our value is determined by our 24/7 data productivity, it can seem impossible to escape. But in this inspiring field guide to dropping out of the attention economy, artist and critic Jenny Odell shows us how we can still win back our lives.

Odell sees our attention as the most precious—and overdrawn—resource we have. And we must actively and continuously choose how we use it. We might not spend it on things that capitalism has deemed important … but once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress.

Far from the simple anti-technology screed, or the back-to-nature meditation we read so often, How to do Nothing is an …

1 edition

Not about doing nothing?

2 stars

The main thesis is against consumerism, optimization, productivity and utility. Intentionally or not, my experience of the book embodied those principles: most of the times I was lost in thought or had already forgotten what the original argumentative line was; I was strolling around an unkept park of ideas. I wasn't expecting so much of the book to focus o the praise of specific artists, the blessings of bird watching, and Oakland.

A lot of the commentary is written like in-the-weeds literary criticism, which I think is a bit unapproachable for people not used to speaking in highly abstract concepts and so many analogies, metaphors and metonymies. Not a book for me, I guess maybe because I need some prior "manifest dismantling" of my ideals on how books ought to be written.

Great book, will re-read

5 stars

Very interesting book. It's not a self-help-grifty "run away from social media and generate more value for your boss" book as you might assume from the title--in fact, it challenges our deeply mistaken definitions of productivity and progress and shows how those ideas ultimately hurt us.

There were a lot of striking observations in this book: about productivity, algorithms, and particularly the natural world. My only complaint is that the section talking about art history felt a bit long and ramble-y and I don't get how it connects to the book's argument. Regardless, I plan to borrow and re-read this soon.

Review of 'How to Do Nothing' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

In Overdue, Oliver (@aelaineo) mentions the vast destruction that social media has done to our connections with each other and information. While providing this diagnosis, Oliver mentioned Jenny Odell's (@the_jennitaur) How to Do Nothing, a glorious book.

I spend too much time on the Twitter and don't really have much to show for it. Odell urges us to replace our rather shallow connections with social media with a deeper connection to place and people.

Odell makes several main points in the book:

A) Doing "nothing" and refusing is a great form of life and resistance.
B) Reclaiming our attention is a way to do "nothing" in the attention economy.
C) Removing your attention requires you to have a place to put it. You can change your habits of attention with art, nature, and the community around you.
D) There are many ways to continue to use technology to connect but …

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  • attention