12/31/2019

Editors’ Picks: Favorite Books of 2019

HOW TO DO NOTHING: RESISTING THE ATTENTION ECONOMY by Jenny Odell

Exhaustively researched yet philosophical and poetic in its delivery, How to Do Nothing will make you rethink your relationship to thought itself. Incorporating history, journalistic narrative, scientific studies, literature, philosophy and even the study of trees and birdwatching, Odell mounts a convincing defense of individual attention. Her observations are fresh and often surprising. She wisely points out that the boundless connectivity afforded by smartphones is no substitute for knowing your real-life neighbors (which is less and less a commonplace reality these days, in the age of social media); it is neighborhoods, not Facebook friends lists, that spring to action in the event of local emergencies and climate-related disasters.

And against the grain of the average social science polemic decrying technology’s impact on our attention spans, How To Do Nothing argues that the designs modern media and technology have on our attention, while real and invasive, are ultimately shallow: it is much, much harder to penetrate and hijack levels of deep thought—the kind of reverent, insistent attention we pay to art and music—and therefore that’s the kind we should cultivate. This book changed how I live, despite not a word of it being pedantic. I hope it will change yours, too.