Every action doesn’t need to have a deliverable. In fact, engaging in “non-instrumental” activities is part and parcel of taking care of yourself and just, well, being a good person.
This is the sentiment at the core of the artist Jenny Odell’s slow and beautiful new book, How to Do Nothing. In this conversation, we talk about the importance of activities that can’t be optimized — listening to another person, taking care of ourselves, contemplating a new idea — and why truly taking time to pay attention to the little things is an act of resistance.
Key takeaways from our conversation:
- How the idea of “time is money” is warping our approach to leisure
- What “context collapse” is and how it’s affecting our capacity for self-expression and growth
- The importance of open-ended, exploration and TIME in the creative process
- The difference between “connectivity” and “sensitivity”
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“I’m haunted by this idea of life is passing you by and you’re not paying attention. Or that there are these things around you that you could be changed by or could be meaningful, or connections you could be making, that simply are not rendered to you in your reality because of this very stable and hyper-optimized pattern of attention that you’ve learned.”
“I have journals going back to second grade. I was thinking about it recently — that this was my Twitter in a weird way. I was constantly talking about what was happening to me, just to myself. But even when you write something in a journal, it’s as if you’re talking to someone else. You’re having to externalize your ideas. And it’s something I continue to do every day. So I wonder sometimes about the things that we post on Twitter that actually should just go in a journal.”
“If you’re sitting across from someone or even just having a one-on-one conversation with someone, their reality as another person is much more accessible to you than it would be if they’re a tiny circle on a screen.”
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A shortlist of the ideas & resources that we touched on in our conversation:
- Jenny’s book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy
- Her original Medium essay on “how to do nothing”
- 24/7 Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep
- Danah Boyd on “context collapse”
- Hurry Slowly w/ Debbie Millman on personal branding
- Zuckerburg: “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”
- Thomas Merton, monk & mystic
- Franco Berardi on how digital life is changing us
- Follow Jenny’s work: Website | Twitter
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