Excerpts from How to Do Nothing

Jenny Odell

How to Do Nothing
By Jenny Oddell, 2019
ISBN: 9781612197494
Jenny Odell's Website

Below are some highlights we found most memorable in this wonderful book.


We still recognize that much of what gives one’s life meaning stems from accidents, interruptions, and serendipitous encounters: the “off time” that a mechanistic view of experience seeks to eliminate.

The happiest, most fulfilled moments of my life have been when I was completely aware of being alive, with all the hope, pain, and sorrow that entails for any mortal being.

What does it mean to construct digital worlds while the actual world is crumbling before our eyes?

What would “back to the land” mean if we understood the land to be where we are right now? Could “augmented reality” simply mean putting your phone down?

One thing I have learned about attention is that certain forms of it are contagious.

The most obvious difference between public space and other spaces is that you don't have to buy anything, or pretend to want to buy something, to be there.

The parks and libraries of the self are always about to be turned into condos.

That tiny, glowing world of metrics cannot compare to this one, which speaks to me instead in breezes, light and shadow, and the unruly, indescribable detail of the real.

We just found the answer to the universe: spend more time with your friends.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately.

Sleep is the last vestigage of humanity that capitalism cannot appropriate.

Curiosity is what gets me so involved in something that I forget myself.

Through attention and curiosity, we can suspend our tendency toward instrumental understanding—seeing things or people one-dimensionally as the products of their functions—and instead sit with the unfathomable fact of their existence, which opens up toward us but can never be fully grasped or known.

The natural tendency of attention when left to itself is to wander to ever-new things. If we wish to keep it upon one and the same object, we must seek constantly to find out something new about the latter.

Attention is a state of openness that assumes there is something new to be seen.

"My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind." — William James, The Principles of Psychology

Let's not forget that, in a time of increasing climate-related events, those who help you will likely not be your Twitter followers; they will be your neighbors.

If we speak of things as inert or inanimate objects, we deny their ability to actively engage and interact with us—we foreclose their capacity to reciprocate our attentions, to draw us into silent dialogue, to inform and instruct us.

I think often about how much time and energy we use thinking up things to say that would go over well with a context-collapsed crowd—not to mention checking back on how that crowd is responding ... What if we spend that energy instead on saying the right things to the right people (or person) at the right time?

I stopped looking at my phone because I was looking at something else, something so absorbing that I couldn't run away. That's the other thing that happens when you fall in love. Friends complain that you're not present or that you have your head in the clouds; companies dealing in the attention economy might say the same thing about me, with my head lost in the trees.

"I have thrown away my lantern, and I can see the dark." — Wendell Berry, A Native Hill

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