How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy
By Jenny Odell
Note, this is one I have read; I still need to add metadata reflecting that!
Quite a nice hybrid between, as Odell notes, self-help and activist field guide — as well as memoir, history, art, naturalism and more!
Short enough to get through in a few hours but also dense with good ideas and references; I came away with dozens of books and artworks it would be interesting to look up and learn about further.
A few things I particularly enjoyed learning about:
- The idea of bioregionalism, and the key takeaway of the importance of grounding oneself both in time, and in a specific place (nice quote: “groundedness requires actual ground”), not only to gain greater awareness on a personal level of where you are / what’s around you, but because we’re enmeshed in a kind of web of mutual responsibility with our environment and it’s important to make this tangibly felt.
- The idea of structures like parks, libraries, museums, labyrinths, that “hold open a contemplative space”, a kind of expanded middle ground between active and passive experience. And related, the idea of “third spaces” (physical or otherwise) where you can apply your attention in ways that may “enlarge and proliferate it, to improve its acuity”. Many reasons this kind of space is important, including for incubation, decentering oneself, creating room for ambiguity and surprise encounters… Another quote I liked: “Mixed neighborhoods create public simultaneous thinking, many perspectives converging on the same moment at the same time, in front of each other”. Public simultaneous thinking — I love that!
- The need for context — all kinds of context! — resonates a lot. Loved the description of aiming for an “ecology of contexts” rather than a “contextual monoculture”. Making me think about how to better spend my time both on- and offline immersing myself in a wider variety of contexts.
- The idea of reframing, and imagining e.g. acts of refusal as not simply negation but disruption / inversion. Similarly, seeking experiences that are transformative or disorienting in a positive sense, altering perception…I liked the example of Blender and how the infinite possible variations in “rendering” a scene apply to attention, too.
- I enjoyed learning about “Community Memory”, an early community BBS that served as a kind of spatiotemporally grounded social network, and thinking about how this ethos is being extended now with various decentralized web projects (Mastodon, Scuttlebutt, etc.) A couple key aspects of this kind of thing include: communication being grounded in a particular context, and being guided by intentionality — a conscious, directed decision to connect / share particular things at a particular time to particular people. I think this space right here, and niche forum communities in general, can be a good example of this! Also appreciate the emphasis of plurality; makes me want to work more to bring this sort of discussion into physical space as well, and generally experiment more…