Do Nothing

I saw the perfect book for the weekend on a shelf at my local bookstore. It is titled How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. You would think that there would be no need for a book on how to do nothing. Just do it. Or I suppose, just don’t do it.

The book’s subtitle (seemingly required of all non-fiction titles these days) is “Resisting the Attention Economy” which gives you an idea of what her idea of doing nothing involves. I am a maker of to-do lists

Odell is an artist who teaches at Stanford University, but she is writing about the pull of digital technologies – notifications, targeted ads, social media, and all that. You might be able to guess some of her plans to do nothing – unplugging and retreating from tech. She advises slowing down and cultivating attention to the physical world.

You know that a full retreat from the digital realm is unrealistic, and she knows that too. Balance. If you use digital means to stay in touch with friends and relatives that’s okay, but balance that with real-world interactions. She gives her own best practices to resist digital influences on our lives.

Balance and attention. Clearly good and increasingly difficult-to-follow advice. Attention is a precious resource that is being stretched and it does have limits.

There are many methods to improve attention. I saw an article suggesting some ways to improve your attention span, which is something that seems to be getting shorter all the time as a result of too many things that draw our attention.

Have you heard of “whole body listening?” It is a technique that is even being taught to young students.

How about focusing on a conversation and listening without interrupting? I need to work on that.

You can try spending time just listening to something. It can be birds outside, water in a creek, a podcast, or a piano concerto. But do it without doing anything else. No drinking coffee, checking your phone, looking at people nearby, or eating some chips. Pure listening.

If you have ever taken a class on learning to meditate, you have discovered that emptying your mind and “doing nothing” is quite difficult. Practice.

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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