A more accurate title for this book might be: "How To Reconsider What It Means To Do Something." Far from advocating inaction, Odell makes an extremely convincing and quite profound case, using an omnivorous mix of philosophy, art history, and good old rumination, that we should start paying attention to what we pay attention to, and to how that attention shapes, and limits, the scopes of our lives. Reading this book, I began to notice how I interact with the bodies around me—bird, tree, human, creek, neighborhood—and how paying them fuller attention might make me a better person, both happier and more truly alive.
** A New York Times Bestseller **
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY: Time • The New Yorker•NPR • GQ • Elle • Vulture • Fortune • Boing Boing • The Irish Times • The New York Public Library • The Brooklyn Public Library "A complex, smart and ambitious book that at first reads like a self-help manual, then blossoms into a wide-ranging political manifesto."—Jonah Engel Bromwich, The New York Times Book Review
One of President Barack Obama's "Favorite Books of 2019" Porchlight's Personal Development & Human Behavior Book of the Year
In a world where addictive technology is designed to buy and sell our attention, and our value is determined by our 24/7 data productivity, it can seem impossible to escape. But in this inspiring field guide to dropping out of the attention economy, artist and critic Jenny Odell shows us how we can still win back our lives.
Odell sees our attention as the most precious—and overdrawn—resource we have. And we must actively and continuously choose how we use it. We might not spend it on things that capitalism has deemed important … but 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 read 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 will change how you see your place in our world.
About the Author
Jenny Odell is an artist and writer who teaches at Stanford and has been an artist-in-residence at places like the San Francisco dump, Facebook, the Internet Archive, and the San Francisco Planning Department. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, New York Magazine, The Atlantic, The Believer, The Paris Review, and McSweeney’s, among others. She lives in Oakland.
"She struck a hopeful nerve of possibility that I hadn’t felt in a long time."—Jia Tolentino, THE NEW YORKER
"How to Do Nothing is genuinely instructive, elaborating a practical philosophy to help us slow down and temporarily sidestep the forces aligned against both our mental health and long-term human survival. You can knock the hustle — and you should."—Akiva Gottlieb, LOS ANGELES TIMES
"Approachable and incisive. . . . The book is clearly the work of a socially conscious artist and writer who considers careful attention to the rich variety of the world an antidote to the addictive products and platforms that technology provides. . . . [Odell] sails with capable ease between the Scylla and Charybdis of subjectivity and arid theory with the relatable humanity of her vision."—Nicholas Cannariato, THE WASHINGTON POST "The sentiment behind How to Do Nothing is one of defiance.”—Casey Schwartz, THE NEW YORK TIMES
"An erudite and thoughtful narrative about the importance of interiority and taking time to pay close attention to the spaces around us."—Annie Vainshtein, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
"An eloquent argument against the cult of efficiency, and I felt both consoled and invigorated by it."—Jennifer Szalai, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
"The path to freedom lies within the covers of this book."—Lauren Goode, WIRED
"How to Do Nothing mimics the experience of walking with a perceptive and sensitive friend, the kind of person who makes you feel, in your bones, that it’s a miraculous gift to be alive."—Katie Bloom, THE SEATTLE TIMES
"Odell’s great strength as a writer is her ability to convey art’s unique power without overestimating or misstating its social impact. . . . Ultimately, what sets her book apart from self-help is not a less quixotic set of demands but a more life-affirming endgame."—Megan Marz, THE BAFFLER
"Thoughtful, compelling, and practical."—Clay Skipper, GQ
“This is a potentially subversive book. Affirming that we should take more time offline for nurturing our own thoughts (and so our own being) does not sound that new, but here it is so gracefully articulated in irresistible arguments.”—Aurelio Cianciotta, Neural
"Jenny Odell’s brilliant How to Do Nothing is the book we all need to read now. With wonderful precision, passion, and artfulness, Odell finds the language to meet this cultural moment. She has written a joyful manifesto about resistance that is also an eccentric and practical handbook on how to reclaim your colonized and monetized attention."—Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others
“Self-help for the collectively minded, How to Do Nothing is as thoughtful and morally serious as it is fun to read. This book will change how you see the world.”—Malcolm Harris, author of Kids These Days
“Your chaotic, fraught internal weather isn't an accident, it's a business-model, and while 'thoughtful resistance' isn't 'productive,' Odell proves that it is utterly necessary.”—Cory Doctorow, author of Radicalized and Walkaway
“In a media and tech ecosystem simultaneously obsessed with "digital detox" and building personal brands, How to Do Nothing is a breath of fresh air grounding readers in the complex, interdependent actual ecosystems of the physical world. Jenny Odell writes with remarkable clarity and compassion. Each chapter reads like going on a fascinating walk through a park in conversation with an old friend (who happens to also be able to tell you about every single bird in the park, which is awesome). It's a book I already know I'll be returning to and referencing for a long time.”—Ingrid Burrington, author of Networks of New York
“In How to do Nothing Jenny Odell breaks through the invisible yoke that binds 21st century first-worlders to our app-driven devices. With a thoughtful look at the attention economy, Odell’s book is a self-help guide for re-learning how to look at the world. The book braids threads of ancient philosophy together with contemporary visual and technological culture, and weaves an original route to re-wilding the mind. Wide-ranging and erudite, this book is also entertaining, and brings the reader along with enthusiasm to Odell's philosophy of “manifest dismantling.” —Megan Prelinger, author of Inside the Machine: Art and Invention in the Electronic Age
"Odell introduces the idea that within our world there are endless other worlds; many of the alternatives sound much better. We need only pay attention."—VICE'S Broadly