How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

701 Words • Books • 05/09/2024

it isn’t strictly about doing nothing but it is against the capitalist conception of productivity and the historical gradual colonization of our minds and time: “refusing productivity and stopping to listen”

the author and many other creatives take problem with the idea that we must always be saying something performing or creating something because how will you have anything to give without periods of gathering things and reflecting on them?

she discusses attention a lot because thats what’s commodified by the attention economy but i think she really wants to focus on presence or being-in-the-world

in practicing and sharpening your attention you gain more awareness of the external and the internal: both of things unnoticed outside like birdsong or more about your emotions, wants, or needs in yourself

we tend to focus on growth and new things rather than valuing maintenance and regeneration in this we resist us giving up our time and focus instead of putting time into being human (human animality) in connecting with others and our world/Earth (spaces)

in focusing more on the present moment and being in our bodies we may stretch a single moment to feel longer as a way to live “longer” by experiencing more subjective time

retreat from society is irresponsible and impossible; politics/society necessarily emerge from the contact of multiple people with differing wills and combined with ideological baggage from a society communes are doomed to fail

we have responsibilities to others but also humans are social creatures so total retreat is not possible

removal and isolation is necessary for an outside perspective for contemplation to see the forest for the trees but that contemplation should bring you back to the world with a renewed sense of love and responsibility: to leave and always come back

one may feel the desire to escape more broadly but one has to tune into that feeling to truly understand what they want to run away from and they may find it’s not society in general but certain aspects of how they are participating or engaging in society this goes back to the authors point about reflection as necessary for art or anything meaningful

attention individually and alignment collectively is necessary for intentional action but the economy both attention and capitalistic robs us of this attention and we must participate in the rat race for fear of falling behind or out because we have little margin/safety net

there are many things to refuse but first is attention because it undergirds everything else

withdrawal from social media is potentially untenable but also not the point it’s going beyond the news cycle and fake news to focus and enlarge attention on what really matters

attention may be the last thing we own and can this withdrawal

attention = reality, so paying more and better attention can open new realities

in being shown something novel and unmooring our senses it allows us to notice the same inputs differently

James and von Helmholtz argue that voluntary sustained attention is impossible and instead is actually a series of successive efforts to bring attention back to the same thing by continually finding out new things about it, as this is what attention tends toward

attention has direction and magnitude

attention literally filters perception (renders) — attention maps/patterns of attention

if we choose to pay attention to people and graciously interpret their actions in reference to their depth as people and not objects, we are able to open up compassion and love to everyone thus transforming our everyday interactions and experiences a la david foster wallace

spatial proximity like your community or neighbors forces you to confront people and natures and realities different than yours that are somewhat in escapable and then doing so takes you out of your filter, bubble and forces you to explain things that you’ve taken for granted allowing you to see things from new angles as well things from other people

these are encounters that we can’t foresee and they may change us it allows you to disrupt your own self and identity and discover something new about yourself instead of staying within and honing your existing self and interests.

The inequality in which the attention economy affects people


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