How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

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...

DownloadRead Online
Title:How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy
Author:Jenny Odell
Rating:

How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy Reviews

  • Felicia V. 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!

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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,

    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!

  • 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:

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Mehrsa

    I probably should have sat in silence and watched birds instead of reading this book. There is no thesis here and no new insights. We need to know how to do nothing. Maybe it's for a different generation, but my generation grew up being terribly bored and I honestly do not miss it.

Best Books Online is in no way intended to support illegal activity. Use it at your risk. We uses Search API to find books/manuals but doesn´t host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners. Please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them


©2019 Best Books Online - All rights reserved.