📖 How to Do Nothing

Repression is not silence, and is not “repression of dissent; nor does it rest on the enforcement of silence. On the contrary, it relies on the proliferation of chatter, the irrelevance of opinion and discourse, and on making thought, dissent and critique banal and ridiculous.”

Context collapse

“Spatial and temporal context both have to do with the neighboring entities around something that help define it. Context also helps establish the order of events. Obviously, the bits of information we’re assailed with on Twitter and Facebook feeds are missing both of these kinds of context.”

“In the last chapter, I try to imagine a utopian social network that could somehow hold all of this. I use the lens of the human bodily need for spatial and temporal context to understand the violence of “context collapse” online and propose a kind of “context collection” in its place. Understanding that meaningful ideas require incubation time and space, I look both to noncommercial decentralized networks and the continued importance of private communication and in-person meetings. I suggest that we withdraw our attention and use it instead to restore the biological and cultural ecosystems where we forge meaningful identities, both individual and collective.”

Jenny Odell
How to Do Nothing


The book meanders along in its own way, is not really trying to tell you how to do nothing, and instead examines how we have let the capitalist manager’s ideas of productivity taken over our attention. The book has somewhat of a misleading title or perhaps it is meant to attract attention. Odell does not mean for you to do nothing. Because if you withdraw entirely from society, you cannot make change or make things better for yourself. What Odell means by doing nothing is to disengage from attention economy, and engage in another framework e.g. speak to friends in person, engage in community, go take a walk and develop a sense of place. (She talks quite a lot about birds and birdwatching, which may or may not interest you.)

I especially appreciate the reminder that repression need not be by way of disallowing speech. Because living in this day and age, we know that by setting chatter atwitter, you can block discussion, create fatigue… It made me reconsider what I choose to read (Twitter, RSS, Reddit), and whether I have unwittingly withdrew too much. Perhaps this book started me back on keeping a blog.