How to Do Nothing—Resisting the Attention Economy

By Jenny Odell. Even though I just finished it, I suspect Odell’s “How to Do Nothing” will be the most influential book I read in 2020 because it’s the most thought provoking book I’ve read since America the Anxious and Palaces of the People, books that also emphasize the importance of community, public places, and the common good. It is so unique, insightful, and challenging, I processed two-thirds of it at most; meaning, I need to reread it, which is a bit problematic since it’s due back at the library. I should probably make Eldest’s day, a true bibliophiliac, and just purchase it. Especially since it will take me a long time to even partially apply her numerous insights.

The front jacket lead, which I’ve amended, is a decent overview:

“A galvanizing critique of the forces vying for our attention—and our personal information—that redefines what we think of productivity, reconnects us with the environment, and reveals all that we’ve been (what we are) too distracted to see about ourselves and our world.”

If you are wary of individualism and seek more community, read Odell.

If you long for a more meaningful, less commercial existence, read Odell.

If you suspect your life might be enriched by less social media activity, read Odell.

If you want to think and care more deeply about your local ecology, climate change,  economic privilege, and alternative ways of thinking about progress, read Odell.

If you want to see Odell explain her book while reflecting on the challenges posed by its unexpected success, watch this November 2019 talk.

“How to Do Nothing” is especially important for anyone thinking, “No way am I spending 23 minutes I don’t have to watch the video.”

I Watched Americana

And not too proud to admit it. Well, so far, the first 35 minutes, which to my TSwift-loving daughters, secures my place in the pantheon of history’s most outstanding fathers.

For extra credit, I read Amanda Petrusich’s review in The New Yorker, TAYLOR SWIFT’S SELF-SCRUTINY IN ‘MISS AMERICANA'”.

 Petrusich notes:

“Swift is certainly not exceptional in her yearning for approval, but her life has unfolded on an unprecedented scale.”

Not exactly original insights. If The New Yorker had commissioned me to write the review, which in hindsight they should’ve, I would’ve framed the film as another in a long line of case studies on the corrosive effects of fame. As my saying goes, “Fame tends to corrupt and absolute fame corrupts absolutely.” Then I would’ve referenced “Amy” the documentary about Amy Winehouse which powerfully illustrates how sadly pop icons’ stories often turn out especially when surrounded by selfish, financially dependent employees, family, and “friends”.

And it’s odd that The New Yorker’s choice for reviewer is silent on our mindless tendency towards celebrity worship, which I’d argue makes us complicit in Swift’s struggles and Winehouse’s demise.

It’s also disappointing that their reviewer is silent on Swift’s passive acceptance of her fame. Swift did lay low for a year, but more as a pause in her incredibly ambitious career. What’s stopping her, someone has to ask, from a complete retreat from the public sphere for much, much longer.

Taylor, if you’re reading this, which I suspect you are, eat up and change your appearance, move to Canada, make friends with Harry and Megan, and dig into the ancient Stoics. You won’t be disappointed.

I can’t speak for my daughters, but the rest of us will be okay.

Netflix’s The Crown Is A Marvel

Monarchies are whacked; and yet, I find The Crown, the story of Britain’s monarchy, imminently enjoyable. I start each episode; I’m currently through Season 3, episode 7; wondering if it’s the one where the quality will start ebbing ever so slightly. Although a dip seems inevitable, each successive one leaves me more and more wowed. I don’t even think of fast forwarding through any parts of it.

When it comes to viewing pleasure, I did not see many movies in 2019 that rival any random episode of The Crown. And interestingly, it’s an anomaly for the “Golden Age” of television in which the most popular content is dark and edgy*. In contrast, The Crown is the Tim Duncan or Big Fundamental of contemporary television.

The Crown soars because of its writing, it’s cinematography, its music, and its casting. Especially its casting. In particular, Olivia Coleman as the middle aged Queen Elizabeth and Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip are phenomenal.

Only three episodes in the queue. I plan to stretch them out as much as possible to shorten the wait for season four a wee bit.

*rest assured, the Netflix series on the Trump monarchy will be decidedly more dark and edgy

Deconstructing Wellness

The Dream is a super interesting podcast that shreds MLMs, multi-level marketing schemes. Now the same podcasters are back with a second season.

“In Season 2 we look at a world just as shady and mysterious as MLMs, but one whose promises are at times even more bombastic and unfathomable: WELLNESS. What is it? Who sells it? And will it bring you eternal happiness and help; and, perhaps, eternal life?”

Dig this:

“According to the Global Wellness Institute, the global health and wellness industry is now worth $4.2 trillion. The industry has been growing with 12.8% between 2015 and 2017 and represents 5.3% of global economic output.”

Perfect topic for these socially conscious investigative podcasters.

Episode one is mostly about essential oils. Episode two is about how their Los Angeles neighborhood has been transformed by the wellness industry. It’s funny. Give it a go.

I was engaged in my own wellness routine while listening. A brisk 10k run, followed by pushups and other core exercises, followed by vacuuming. How can one not be happy with good cardiovascular health, a healthy back, and clean carpets?