A discussion of Jenny O’Dell’s book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy and how I’m limiting social media time.
WHAT I’M READING
I’m reorganizing the order of Thursday’s post to highlight the book How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny O’Dell. My review? MIXED FEELINGS.
O’Dell, an artist and professor at Stanford, makes the book’s premise spot-on. Through social media, corporations have monetized our attention. The messages we hear about how we spend our time are a big part of the monetization of attention.
Everyone is always supposed to be slammed. Wasting time is laziness and lack of ambition. With every algorithm change, we spend even more time feeding our lives into a system that does not compensate us for our contributions while it profits obscenely.
How To Do Nothing advocates for humans to take back our attention, to withhold our lives from the capitalist social sphere.
And I agree. Profoundly.
But this particular book is too academic for average readers. Most people are not college professors with vast swaths of time to sit in city parks and bird watch. (O’Dell’s job and hobby) I’m one of the only people I know with the flexibility to retreat from life. (O’Dell retreats to cabins in the California Sierras to recharge or get work done; I win writing residencies in Europe to recharge and get books done.)
Her basic premise — TO BE IN THE MOMENT — is buried under layers of academic pontificating. And that’s unfortunate.
So Here’s What I’m Doing to Be In the Moment
- Further reduce time on social media. I am deleting my personal Facebook profile in the coming weeks and will update my Author Page daily. Believe me, I understand that for many the only things and people that exist are the ones Facebook’s algorithm shows them. And for as long as Facebook deigns to show my work to a few eyeballs who won’t interact anywhere else, I’ll maintain a business presence.
- Focus on personal interaction over online noise. For the first time in my adult life, I’m in several chat groups to keep track of far-flung friends. On Sunday, I called a friend and talked on the phone for a half-hour. I’m reaching out and putting my eyeballs on whoever will meet me for coffee and conversation. I scheduled a fall trip solely to catch up with a friend. I mailed several sympathy cards and texted back-and-forth with a reader who lost his dad. A couple of weeks ago, I even wrote someone a long, chatty letter and snail-mailed it. THESE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO WILL REALLY KNOW ME GOING FORWARD.
- Stop sharing personal details online. If you’ve talked with me lately, either by text or phone or in person, you know there’s quite a bit happening in my life that I haven’t shared on the internet. When Facebook first started, I found rapture in online banter. Look at all the birthday wishes! See how many people care about mundane stuff I’m doing! Look at these connections! For too long, I treated algorithmic friendship like the real thing AND IT ISN’T.
Let me expound upon Number 3.
Personal trials and hardship reveal who we really are. Because of a vortex of setbacks, I’ve been very unhappy with myself and am working to be better. But tough episodes also spotlight who we can count on.
For the past three years, I used social media as a crutch to keep from dealing with my shit. I got angry when it failed to give me what I needed. I used it as a ledger and tried to force or guilt people into giving me what I craved. Facebook made me feel worthless at a time when I was beset with personal and professional setbacks. Every update underscored how little I matter to anyone, because that was my default mindset.
And in the process, I was never in the moment, was I?
I realized this most keenly when my aunt died. I was in a cell on another continent when I got the news, alone with strangers. And I could not name a single person I could call for a good cry.
That wasn’t because a handful of folks wouldn’t have listened. For three years, I was shellshocked from trying to get what I needed from others when it was always in my power to show up for myself. And in the process of showing up for myself and paying attention in the moment, I see who is really there for me.
Algorithmic friendship is great for staying connected to readers and sharing rah-rahs, but it isn’t enough for flesh-and-blood humans in the thick of despair. At least, not for this one.
And to me, that’s the biggest value of rejecting the attention economy in favor of being in the moment. I forgot what it felt like to leave my phone in my purse, sit on a terrace on a cool night, watch swallows dip and dive. Or memorize a person’s face, how it changes when she’s irked or pleased or sleepy. Understand why people order what they do and read signals of whether they want to share. Have tons to talk about over coffee because everything is new. Let a friend loan us his car, an update he chose not to scroll past or ignore because we were sitting right in front of him.
The in-person interaction IS THE UPDATE.
21–25 October 2019 — San Diego
5 November 2019 — Beaufort, South Carolina
13–15 November 2019 — Greensboro Tri-Cities North Carolina
Including keynote speaker at Greensboro NC Garden Club!
In case you missed it, Andra started a new fiction series. This post includes all three installments. To see what else Andra has been writing in series fiction, visit The Aftermath of Death, She Was Venus in Fur, Grief Out of Balance, For the Love of a Gun, Death by Toilet, Biscuits, Gardenias and a Funeral and Everything Dies. She’s also on Medium with a new story HERE. Come back Monday for the next bit.
Originally published at https://andrawatkins.com on September 26, 2019.