How to do Nothing
Friday nights are not what they used to be. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Cross your heart and tell me honestly – are you sure you want your pre-lockdown Friday nights back?
I guess that depends on how you spent them. All night bar-hopping can be fun, yes, but how much do you miss waking up to that slap of remorse on Saturday morning?
Going to movies is certainly missed – but thanks to Netflix at least there are options. What I am longing for most, though, what I’ve truly got an appetite for, is dinner somewhere nice. Flickering candles, starched napkins, the background buzz of fellow diners. I miss the leisurely perusing of a menu, now replaced with the wearied scanning of instructions on yet another supermarket deal.
Guess what – those dinner places miss us too; and more than that – they need our support as they struggle to stay afloat. The once guilty ritual of a takeaway has become a good deed! Tap in to those karma points and order something local.
What ‘Dinner with a Book’ will do is provide you with a delicious theme and good company. ‘Company’? I hear you ask.
But no, we won’t accompany you ourselves, and we won’t suggest you break the rules with illicit meet-ups. For what is better company than a good book?
Let’s start this Lunar year with a new routine: stop by your library, get the book, then pick up that takeaway. Come home, set up the solo dinnertable of your dreams, and live your Fridays anew.
Jenny Odell – How to do Nothing
When someone announces on social media that they are going to take a break from it, we no longer smirk. What seemed funny and pretentious just a few years ago is considered wise and mindful these days. Even necessary. Somewhere along the lines of perpetual, never-stopping connectivity we’ve forgotten the foremost skill we possess at birth – how to do nothing.
Jenny Odell shows that we are now living in a new undoubtedly-capitalistic-to-its-core economy that prizes attention above other things. There are all kinds of marketing tools to grab it: cunning algorithms, scanning your every click, adapting to your tastes, and whispering in your ear. Or there’s always the good old-fashioned ad bluntly making you suffer through somebody’s ridiculous homemade music video just because you haven’t forked out for a Premium Youtube account. As marketing analytics got smarter, our attention spans got shorter. It isn’t a secret that people today read more than ever before, but what they read isn’t books – it’s the never-ending bland ‘content’ that contains nothing much. Our brains eat up the sugary Tik-Tok reels, gorge on personalised feeds, and – just like kids high on Halloween candy – become ‘overstimulated and unable to sustain a train of thought’.
Because online activity is so easy to trace, package, sell and use, our value in the eyes of those who truly believe that greed is good ‘is determined by our productivity, many of us find our every last minute captured, optimised, or appropriated as a financial resource by the technologies we use daily’.
This book is ‘a field guide to doing nothing as an act of political resistance to the attention economy’. Jenny Odell argues for spending more time away from the screen: observing, taking in, admiring, giving attention and giving space. Giving yourself some space. Granting yourself the right to say nothing.
A great place to learn how to consciously take hold of your attention is any non-commercial public space nearby. Jenny herself goes to the Rose Garden in Oakland, California where she loves to spend time birdwatching and making use of the iNaturalist app (which helps you learn the names of every living thing you take a picture of, and is brilliant I must say!) Sadly, such places are constantly under threat, because – surprise surprise! – they are financially unproductive.
Doing nothing does not mean you should freeze in one place blinking at a wall for ages (although if that’s your thing, go for it), it just means not participating in the productivity chase. The point is not to take a break from social media or work, only to come back refreshed to be ever more productive – it is to ‘wrest our focus from the attention economy and replant it in the public, physical realm.’
Like putting your phone away when you’re having dinner. Even if your companion is a book.
‘Dinner with a Book’ is a new Londnr feature created & written by book blogger, Yelena from Foliovore.