how to do nothing, an essay

i feel the need to spout off a few thoughts about Jenny Odell’s ‘How to Do Nothing: Resisting to the Attention Economy’ even though i’m reluctant to say i took much from it. you know that feeling when you when a film offers up some kewl question or perspective but never manages to make much of it outside of ‘wouldn’t this be kewl?’ sometimes those films end up lodged in me for days and weeks, offering up something generative but never fully formed. this is how i experienced ‘How to Do Nothing’.

also, as should become clear in future writing, i’m super interested in mind, attention and attitude because i see them as the ‘fundamental physics’ of human experience and society. sticking with the analogy, i view consciousness as a set of first principles from which to build solutions to many of our species’ growing pains.

anyway, i’m glad ’How to Do Nothing’ is trending because it feels like a breadcrumb on the path toward (some kind of) awakening. a recent NPR story was talking about millennial parents who were hiring consultants to help them come up with non-technological activities for their kids (wow). meanwhile, Odell is living the repercussions of our technological era on a personal level and in realtime. her journey is a noble one — exploring the estrangement that we share and reflecting on the ways which we live but are rarely alive. this is a product of attention, according to odell, yet attention itself is not something she seems to have explored thoroughly though she borrows from many contemplatives who have. she looks at attention and its effects on the macro scale too; how attention makes/unmakes society/nature and how we can see it function in art. i like that her ‘resistance’ (though i find that word troubling) to our widely engrained structures of attention is to walk the walk, to engage with her community, her habitat, etc.. for what she offers with the book, i hope that it can spur some folks to consider how they are using their attention and how it is using them — though i’m reserved about how profound her argument is. despite these shortcomings, i come away from ‘How to Do Nothing’ knowing that Odell is an ally; someone on the path of engagement AND refusal. this is great, because it is not a comfortable path. thankfully, there are other allies, such as yourself.