How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (by Jenny Odell)

» June 7th, 2019


Note to readers: For the next year I will be treating this space as a kind of reading journal. Rather than confine my thoughts to a notebook, which I have done for the last decade, I will instead make them more public. In some ways this represents a natural progression from being totally unsure of my analyses to being not quite totally unsure of my analyses. These posts will follow no particular agenda or order but will reliably start with a quote from my reading and respond to it according to my mood. Annually, I attempt to read at least 60 books– I’m currently at #28.

Quote: “There’s something important that the moment of stopping to listen has in common with the labyrinthine quality of attention holding architecture: in their own ways, each enacts some kind of interruption, a removal from the sphere of familiarity.” (p.9)

It seems like this challenge is heightened by the tyrannical means through which social media reinforces that “sphere of familiarity.” Recently I chose to leave Twitter and Instagram. I’d always told myself that I was the one in control of those platforms, not the other way around. Wrong. Freed from their distracting influence–and, yes, a little out of the loop as a consequence–I have been far more relaxed and productive with my reflections and contemplations. My writing became immediately more prolific and attentive to stylistic integrity and voice. But more than all this, I also noticed that I was in a better position to do what Odell suggests: allowing my attention to rest and linger on more meaningful, inherently rewarding spaces. There is nothing hugely new or surprising about this Merton-esque response. But what does get overlooked as a benefit of leaving that suffocating sphere is how, once you are steeped in more meaningful interruptions, you bring a better self to social relations with friends and family. You become, in essence, better company, if only because your perspective is one that is not informed by the monocultural industrial complex through which today’s algorithms structure so much of our lives. You have traveled elsewhere, visited strange lands, and you have stories to share.

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