Jenny Odell – How to Do Nothing


A galvanizing critique of the forces vying for our attention – and our personal information – that redefines what we think of as productivity, reconnects us with the environment, and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about ourselves and our world

Nothing is harder to do these days than nothing. But in a world where our value is determined by our 24/7 data productivity . . . doing nothing may be our most important form of resistance.

So argues artist and critic Jenny Odell in this field guide to doing nothing (at least as capitalism defines it). Odell sees our attention as the most precious – and overdrawn – resource we have. Once we can start paying a new kind of attention, she writes, we can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine humankind’s role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress.

Far from the simple anti-technology screed, or the back-to-nature meditation we hear so often, How to Do Nothing is an action plan for thinking outside of capitalist narratives of efficiency and techno-determinism. Provocative, timely, and utterly persuasive, this book is a four-course meal in the age of Soylent.

Author: Jenny Odell
Narrator: Rebecca Gibel
Duration: 8 hours 10 minutes
Released: 19 Jul 2005
Publisher: HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
Language: English

User Review:

heyday untapped

A complex, interwoven, insightful study of the past and present of disconnecting from harmful currents of culture–focusing heavily on today’s “attention economy.”

Odell pulls from diverse traditions for her work and connects then in surprising ways.

The book at times feels like it’s trying too hard–its voice working overtime to prove itself academic. Odell pulls on her own lived experience for examples, which is warranted and very effective, but then sometimes tends to talk about herself talking about herself in a way that feels unnecessarily metacognitive. She also at time takes on familiar voices of “academic urgency,” I suppose, that don’t ring quite as true as the clear and evident, real and solid world she is already presenting. Perhaps this is an attempt to speak over the din of the attention economy itself, but it was not needed–she already had my attention.

All in all, I came away from the book with fresh insights and a renewed intention to focus on what’s real. She gave a master class in the dangers of passive surrender to the shiny objects of the attention economy, and for this I’m very grateful. I felt my habits and my ways if looking and noticing change as I listened.

The narrator, though clear and engaging, had a habit of overdoing the pronunciation of places, names, and things that came into English from other languages (the San Jacinto mountains near Palm Springs were pronounced in an attempted Spanish accent that would likely cause locals to that area to roll their eyes, English- and Spanish-speakers alike). The one notable exception to this was German philosopher Walter Benjamin, whose name was pronounced as if he were American. This too led to an impression of trying too hard.