How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by: Jenny Odell – A novel
AGE: 14+// GENRE: Non-fiction// PAGE COUNT: 204// RATING: 4.5/5
*The summary is from Goodreads.*
*This link will direct you to a page featuring helpful Black Lives Matter resources.*
*In addition, this link will direct you to my post on the Black Lives Matter movement, in which a number of resources are listed.*
When the technologies we use every day collapse our experiences into 24/7 availability, platforms for personal branding, and products to be monetized, nothing can be quite so radical as… doing nothing. Here, Jenny Odell sends up a flare from the heart of Silicon Valley, delivering an action plan to resist capitalist narratives of productivity and techno-determinism, and to become more meaningfully connected in the process.
Hello! Welcome back to another book review. This one is quite brief.
Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing is a deeply researched and beautifully explored novel. Despite the deceptive self-help and cheerful quality the book tragically presents, Odell illustrates a nuanced argument in which she interweaves topics such as the detrimental impacts of the attention economy, the history of retreat (such as the radical “drop out” movement in the 1960s led by the late Timothy Leary), the impossibility of such retreat, and patterns in our attention—or rather, our current state of fragmented attention. By offering an array of personal and historical context, Odell crafted a fresh and poetic fusion of ecological observation and contemporary and historical textual analysis. The blended balance of personal experience and historical context allowed for great intimacy and diversity within the realms of discussion. This fine merging, I believe, significantly contributed to the sweeping depth and breadth of Odell’s novel, and thus protected it from adopting a dangerously stiff and narrow identity.
An astounding feat, Odell’s How to Do Nothing is a critical and insightful literary contribution. I admire her ability to wholly expand the limited and hackneyed discussion of attention by offering a refreshing and explorative perspective. She traversed obscurity and subtlety in order to reference relevant and unique material. In addition to offering appropriate critiques of her references, Odell beautifully explored their nuances and relevance (both of which would have likely seemed ambiguous otherwise). That said, I would have appreciated fewer citations near the conclusion as I became weary and overwhelmed. Most interestingly, Odell cleverly integrated her passion for nature and art, specifically bird watching, into the core of this novel, and thus allowed a uniquely brightening and refreshing layer to flourish within. By approaching this project artistically and optimistically, Odell crafted a revitalizing and poetic novel.
However, despite my commendation, How to Do Nothing was not an entirely engaging and entertaining read. Due to the sheer number of references, the particulars and nuances of Odell’s central arguments grew increasingly challenging to follow and, as a result, rather overwhelming. In addition, although an initially welcome change, I found the ecological elements tedious. Throughout her novel, Odell repeatedly acknowledged and considered the inequalities that dictate the availability of resources and possibility for periods of rumination within our society. In turn, as Odell writes, depending on the severity of the disparity, this directly impacts the degree to which one can actively resist the attention economy. Despite her consideration, I would have appreciated a deeper exploration of the role inequality (such as race, class, gender, etc.) plays in one’s ability to oppose the attention economy and find physical spaces in which to technologically disconnect and form tangible connections. I am immensely appreciative of the educative and refreshing perspective Odell offers in her novel, and I will therefore undoubtedly return for a reread.
As always, thank you very much for reading my review!
All the best,