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Some parts of this were more interesting than others, but it definitely had me rethinking the way I feel, situated in my life and my hometown, as well as how I utilize technology in my day-to-day life.
"How to Do Nothing" is a well-written polemic against how we (poorly) interact with social media and technology in both our personal and professional lives, leading to an distracted and unfocused lifestyle. It is filled with rich quotations and excerpts from philosophers Henry David Thoreau, William James, Martin Buber to modern writers such as Sarah Schulman and Ernest Becker. Jenny Odell has done extensive research and this book will serve as a catalyst to read other books. Her endnotes are thorough.
The book is a good mix of "academicky" writing and personal journaling. At times, I felt I was reading a page out of her diary, albeit well edited and written. My favorite chapter (and Odell's strongest chapter, in my opinion) is "Anatomy of a Refusal", in which she reinterprets Melville's classic "Bartleby, the Scrivener" as it relates to today's "Attention Economy" of constant email, Twitter tweets, Facebook posts, Slack messages, text messages, and the dreaded messaging application for today's knowledge workers. As someone who's worked in tech and has installed the company's messaging app and receiving those 10pm messages, I could totally relate to Odell's heralding of Bartleby's refusal/war cry: "I prefer not to". I haven't read Melville's short story since high school. And because of Odell's book, I reread that short story, and it has taken on a new meaning to me; I now better understand what Melville was trying to say. Thanks, Odell.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to people who want to understand the negative effects of tech and social media on our personal and professional lives...and how to fight back and take control of our lives.
Looking for ways to escape the digital realm? There will never be a more perfect time than now to read Jenny Odell's "How To Do Nothing." A Professor of media arts and an amateur bird-watcher, Odell takes us on a journey towards living mindfully by resisting today's "attention economy," and toward becoming aware of our own digital habits and their consequences. This book tends to be heavy on the social and literary commentary, so be prepared to learn about the likes of Diogenes, Thoreau, David Hockney, Walter Kaufman, David Foster Wallace and many more. Where Odell succeeds is in finding new ways to make us think about everyday life - our digital addictions and often arbitrary social norms. However, her points are often lost in a maze of tangential literary examples that sometimes obscure her concepts instead of clarifying them. It remains an enjoyable read, and anyone, especially millennials, feeling overwhelmed by the demands and distractions of digital culture will find something to interest them in this book, especially in this time of isolation and personal reflection.
I think a lot of the historical anecdotes and examples are certainly interesting in this book, but I was hoping for something somewhat more guided and tactical. The author also seems to love to interject stories about herself and her accomplishments throughout, which was distracting and, I thought, kind of unnecessary.
While I appreciate the author’s urge to refocus our attention on local habitats — both as a refuge from mindless scrolling and a strengthening of community ties — the book feels narrow in scope, often reading like a bioregional history of the Oakland area. Fascinating in parts, redundant in others. I wish more was devoted to the actual mechanics of the attention economy. For a book who rightfully names its adversary in the subtitle, that which we are called to resist is scarcely examined.
The book is well written and the author is clearly bright. The central argument is not overly complex and it further exposes the trends of our society embedded with technology. It makes you appreciate the little things; such as taking a walk and observing birds. My main issue with this book is the overuse of quotes and footnotes. The best sections are when she writes from her perspective. It felt as if every paragraph was littered with quotes from other articles and books, which muddled the flow. I admit, I look at birds more carefully now.
I like the idea she puts forth, however, there is no need to buy the book. Read Cicero and Seneca instead. This could easily be a magazine essay length piece and still get the point across. Save the $17.00 and try and live the idea.
I believe that the central idea is superb, but it may be a bit hard to read for some. The concepts are a bit abstract and hard to grasp. I found myself struggling to absorb the ideas, and frequently had to reread pages.