How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

If ever there was a book to read during a sweltering heat wave, it’s How to Do Nothing. Jenny Odell is one of my favorite thinkers/artists and I very much enjoyed most of this book, tried not to get enraged by the sloppy notes section which is marred by several errors. Best sections were the intro and first chapter, which was taken from the talk she gave in 2017 that went viral, and if you don’t know Odell, it’s a good place to start.

Essentially, the book boils down to prodding us to be more present with where we are right now, at this very moment. To listen, to observe, to pay human attention to the things around us. To (obviously) put down the screens. Nothing new there, just a well-reasoned argument for resisting the attention economy in whatever way we can.

The stakes are high for us to wake from our collective stupor and resist late capitalism’s demand for total productivity. The world is impatient with “anything nuanced, poetic, or less-than-obvious.” These nothings don’t provide a deliverable, thus are valueless. “To resist in place is to make oneself into a shape that cannot so easily be appropriated by a capitalist value system…. embracing fuzzier ideas: of maintenance as productivity, of the importance of nonverbal communication, and of the mere experience of life as the highest goal.”

Great quote from Gordon Hempton, “an acoustic ecologist who records natural soundscapes”: “Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.”

Left with plenty of reading material to follow up on, about Pauline Oliveros, David Hockney, Diogenes, Agnes Martin, Tehching Hsieh, Eleanor Coppola.