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How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  3,262 ratings  ·  517 reviews
This thrilling critique of the forces vying for our attention re-defines what we think of as productivity, shows us a new way to connect with our environment and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about our selves and our world.

When the technologies we use every day collapse our experiences into 24/7 availability, platforms for personal branding, and
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published April 9th 2019 by Melville House
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Bailey Helene Great question - I feel like this book addresses the complicated nature of navigating digital spaces and instead of actually being a how-to step by…moreGreat question - I feel like this book addresses the complicated nature of navigating digital spaces and instead of actually being a how-to step by step guide, she addresses a larger context of digital space and asks us to question our participation in it. (less)

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Rating details
 ·  3,262 ratings  ·  517 reviews

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Apr 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
First, I understand the negative reviews of this book. The title is misleading as this is not at all a how-to on unplugging or leaving social media (for that, maybe read Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism or Catherine Price’s How to Break Up With Your Phone). Instead it’s a really well-researched book on some abstract and sometimes seemingly esoteric concepts: the self, attention, bioregionalism, what it means to refuse/resist in place, and the effects of late stage capitalism on all of the above. ...more
Felicia V. Edens
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I found an Advanced Reader's Copy of this book at the library where I work, so I was able to read this before the public gets to it this April. None of the other librarians had taken it, and I usually don't end up reading ARCs, but after looking at the cover a couple times, I found myself genuinely intrigued. As I finished the first chapter, I knew that I was going to read the entire thing. I am personally in a state of constant love and hate as well as inspiration and anxiety in terms of my ...more
Apr 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: snoot, learning
Anyone who has run a public event where you show people other organisms has fielded the horrible, soul-crushing question, "But what does it do?" or worse, "What's it good for?" They're not unreasonable questions, perfectly understandable, human questions really, and at the same time completely maddening to an ardent naturalist, as if you'd just introduced your beloved mother to someone who then asked, "Nice to meet you, but what are you good for?" If I'm feeling forthright, I'll reply, "Nothing, ...more
Andrew Sampson
May 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
full disclosure i literally only had one page left to read in this book but i left my backpack with it inside a chipotle, anyways it still changed my life
Jimmy Wu
Jun 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Collective self-help for middle-class leftist intelligentsia. Has the feeling of taking a leisurely stroll with your loony hippie friend who is at once an overeducated ecosocialist and a crackpot Zen mind-hacker. You have no idea why she loves birdwatching so much (to her it's a proto-spiritual experience, to you it seems superficially like playing Pokémon Go) nor can you figure out how she affords to live on the Oakland-Piedmont border without a full-time job. The slick meta-takeaway is that ...more
Aug 10, 2019 rated it it was ok
I probably should have sat in silence and watched birds instead of reading this book. There is no thesis here and no new insights. We need to know how to do nothing. Maybe it's for a different generation, but my generation grew up being terribly bored and I honestly do not miss it.
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
It's hard for me to reconcile that the fundamental things the author talks about in this book: the attention economy, its link to capitalism, how we all need to slow down and think about what we're doing, are all true, and yet the tone is just so smug, lecturing, and talking down at the reader from the lofty heights of liberal academia, as opposed to rooted in the real world where the reader is, with the problem at hand.

To give you an idea of one of the sentences: "If we think about what it
Jun 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommended to 7jane by: Michael
Taste: strawberry-flavored hard candy

I confess that one of the reasons for picking up this book was the cover art *lol* And I confess that I didn't know what this nothing meant - perhaps for laziness? Four-day work week? But I'm just joking here.

The main point is this: stop giving so easily attention to what the media chaos-god is asking from you (and it asks for all), for there is a big source for anxiety, fear, and despair, if things get out of control. Instead take time back: go to places of
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Like others, this book is not what I was expecting. I was expecting more of a how-to, self-help book but instead this is a very heady, very academic and well-researched treatise on attention, culture, and our society at large. I didn’t get to finish because of a slew of family events, but what I read I did...respect? I never was excited to pick the book back up, but once I did I always found the author’s arguments original and well-founded - I found myself wanting to highlight a LOT. This book ...more
May 02, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I found Odell to be a great writer, truly. She has an airy, atmospheric and journalistic tone to her prose, while also imbuing her ideas with an impressive amount of supporting research.

However, this book doesn't know what it wants to be - a guide for others, or her personal journaling/thesis on how the author lives her life. The basis on which it was written, at first, is to demonstrate resisting a constant state of capitalist productivity - so the idea presented here is for those of us who
Alok Vaid-Menon
Aug 04, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is so vital for our generation — we who are more connected than ever before but still more lonely + alienated than ever. Social media / digitization of everyone and everything has fundamentally shifted our understandings of time/space/labor/identity/body and works like this are beginning to account for that and theorize accordingly. Odell takes social media companies to task for competing for our attentiveness + making us invest in the construction of digital worlds all the while the ...more
"It's tempting to conclude this book with a single recommendation about how to live. But I refuse to do that. That’s because the pitfalls of the attention economy can’t just be avoided by logging off and refusing the influence of persuasive design techniques; they also emerge at the intersection of issues of public space, environmental politics, class, and race."

This is not at all a how-to, but a multidisciplinary work on engaging with the world outside of the corporate-controlled attention
Guillaume Morissette
May 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book rules, this felt so good to read
Possibly in Leyton
Jul 02, 2019 rated it liked it
A very short review which doesn't do justice to this book: yes, I was taken by the self-helpy title. I was hoping that it would provide some guidelines based on extensive research into how we all get hooked on refreshing feeds full of people we don't know talking about things that we pretty much instantly forget about as soon as we close our browser (that's just me, maybe). Instead, I got birds. This is fine! I don't dislike birds, although I am not keen on the finding-self-in-nature essay/book. ...more
Jay Smith
Apr 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Delightful book to read, though I’m not quite sure that the author’s wandering argument that social media can (and should) be replaced by bioregionalism (in her case, replacing time spent on Facebook with bird-watching) can be extrapolated to a universal solution for everyone everywhere (for someone else, less Facebook, more marathon running might work; or, for an isolated victim of a hate crime in an impoverished country, maybe connection to a global network is more crucial than placid nature ...more
Sweetheart Seer
Feb 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
*I was sent an e-arc from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Let's start with the negatives and work our way to the positives to end on a high note, shall we?

The Bad:
Bogged down with information dump at times.
Not very cohesive at times/jumping around too much.
Not as engaging as I thought it would be.
Odd topic changes and reaches to try to make certain information fit that didn't feel right or necessary. Like, more should be edited out to make the points better and not over explain
Unhelpfully enough I was too impatient while reading this book. Which is all about disengaging from our screens and taking time for observation and for reconnecting with the mundane but vital marginalia of our daily lifeworld. Odell's tone of voice is attractive enough. A sympathetic blend of the feminine and the masculine, of the nerdy and the bohemian. And she is terribly smart and well-read. But for some reason the mix of diary-like excursions and essayistic argumentation didn't gel, this ...more
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of those books that, while reading, I'd stop people at random to read whole pages to them. I anticipated that I would like this book, since it aligns with my principles of being a ~ l a z y ~ person, I was really impressed and surprised with the quality of writing. The joy and affection for the natural world is very palpable through Jenny Odell's prose and I found it deeply affecting. Throughout reading this book, I've been able to re-focus my lens on the wonder and beauty of the world ...more
Campbell Disbrow
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
this book about doing nothing somehow manages to be about… everything??? Everything includes:

-pushing back against capitalist ideas of productivity and optimization and instead valuing observation and maintenance
-Busyness as a “symptom of deficient vitality” -we romanticize being overworked because we’ve internalized that producing work is the greatest value we can contribute
-the nonsense of the “personal brand” model of identity where we present ourselves as just a set of superficial, rigid,
While "How to Do Nothing" is certainly more eye-catching, the subtitle "Resisting the Attention Economy" more accurately gets at Odell's larger project. Rather than snappy bits of advice, Odell instead offers us an extended meditation on how our world is being fundamentally restructured in a way so as to suspend us in an uneasy eternal present of context-less information, perpetually filling up the mental space needed to contemplate, process, and react. What I found wonderful—but I can imagine ...more
I read this book in public spaces and was often asked what the book was about. I'd say, "It sounds like a self-help book but it's not." Having finished it, I think it is a self help book but structured unlike most books of the genre. Jenny Odell provides not only recommendations on how to interact with time and space in an age when our attention is someone's money, but she also shares the context within which she developed these recommendations. Her recommendations don't have the faux ...more
Caiti S
Nov 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I felt like this book was borderline too smart for me, if you know what I mean. But overall, I enjoyed the author's thesis. It doesn't actually advocate for doing nothing, but rather taking control of our energy and attention as a resource that belongs to us, and in doing so creates space for pursuits not often valued in a capitalist society, namely art, nature/ecology, and our local communities. In terms of writing style, it was intellectual and essayistic and meandering, requiring a certain ...more
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Rather than advertising a cure-all for social media addiction, Odell advocates for a reframing of our engagement with the world at large in this wonderful, almost essayistic book.

I'd recommend this to anyone who wants to interrogate how social media has shaped our mutual interactions, our collective memory, but most importantly, how it mediates the roles that we play in shaping society and it us.
Sheree Joseph
Oct 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wow, this is one of my favourite books of 2019. It has dramatically shifted and altered my life, views and even politics. Brilliant.
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
WOW. I absolutely love this book. It was exactly what I needed right now. I love Odell's approach to our current culture and how to potentially heal it. Her concept of "do nothing" is not really doing nothing, it's just not succumbing to the attention economy or the culture of achievement/disruption/hustle and grind/progress for progress' sake/ etcetcetc. Instead, we should embrace the concept of just maintaining something or being the stewards of something (including nature, culture, our lives ...more
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I love this book so much. If I had used a yellow highlighter to mark the parts of this book that spoke to me, nearly the entire book would be yellow and I'd have spent a lot of money on yellow highlighters. I know I will return to this book many times as I continue to learn to be present, resisting persuasive design and the attention economy.
May 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Books that I keep looking for reasons to bring up in conversations" is probably too long of a tag for a Goodreads bookshelf, but thoroughly describes this book.
it has been a really long time since i have come across such a generous, kind hearted, open-minded, enlightening book and author. jenny odell has so, so, so much love for this world and because of this she has so much love pouring out of her writing. her writing moved me to tears various times, no joke, because she so effortlessly highlights how wonderful humanity and nature can be. i’m really grateful for this book. this is easily one of my favorite books of the year so far and maybe one of the ...more
Sarah Paolantonio
May 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I was excited and eager to read this book after reading about it in Jia Tolentino's essay 'What It Takes To Put Your Phone Away' which mentioned it and partially reviewed it (and others). The cafe I manage is connected to Melville House, the press that published Odell's book, so I eagerly bought it (along with The Muller Report, which they printed which is in the public domain, side note).

Odell was asked to give a talk and came up with the title How To Do Nothing. It since has become a book
Nov 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
In a world where our value is determined by our data productivity, doing nothing may be our most important form of resistance. In this field guide to slowing down, Odell sees our attention as the most precious, and overdrawn, resource we have.

I love Jenny’s message in this book. She is not anti-technology, nor is she suggesting that everyone quit social media or move to an isolated island away from civilisation. What she is suggesting is that we need to be more focused with our attention, and be
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“Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way.” 7 likes
“My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind—without selective interest, experience is an utter chaos.” 4 likes
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