The New Self-Help

Quitting Facebook isn’t the answer

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This story is part of The New Self-Help: 21 Books for a Better You in the 21st Century.

We live in an age where there are many systemic abuses that should be refused. I propose that one great place to start is the abuse of our attention. Attention undergirds every other kind of meaningful refusal: It allows us to reach Thoreau’s higher perspective, and forms the basis of a disciplined collective attention that we see in successful strikes and boycotts whose laser-like focus withstood all the attempts to disassemble them. But in today’s mediascape, it’s hard to imagine what refusal looks like on the level of attention. For example, when I mention to anyone that I’m thinking about “resisting the attention economy,” their first response is, “Cool, so, like, quitting Facebook?” …

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The following is a transcript of a talk I gave at the Prelinger Library, as part of the Place Talks series.

I grew up in Cupertino, California, a place synonymous with Silicon Valley and which most people know as the home of Apple. If you had told teenage Jenny that I would have even half an hour’s worth of stuff to say about Cupertino, I would have been surprised, because my experience of Cupertino was mostly this:

Hybrids, 1990s net art, and a giant floating worm

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All images: Jenny Odell, except where noted.

The following is an adapted transcript of a presentation I gave at KIKK 2018.

This talk is about something I’m calling “the in-between.” And to explain what I mean by that, I’m going to do what we often do when we meet strangers: I’m going to talk about the weather.

Earlier this year, I was idly flipping through a newspaper and an article caught my eye. It was about an atmospheric river that was set to dump a ton of rainfall and snow on California that weekend. When I looked up what an atmospheric river is, it was exactly what it sounds like: a concentrated pathway of water that enters at one point in the atmosphere and exits (as rainfall) in another. In this case, the rain was going to be coming from the Philippines. …

This is the transcript of a keynote talk I gave at EYEO 2017 in Minneapolis. An adapted version appears in my book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.

I’d like to start off by saying that this talk is grounded in a particular location, and that is the Morcom Amphitheatre of Roses in Oakland, California, otherwise known simply as “the rose garden.”

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In the most basic sense, that’s because I largely wrote this talk in the rose garden. But it’s also because as I wrote it, I realized that the garden encompassed everything that I’m going to talk to you about, which is the practice of doing nothing, but also the architecture of nothing, the importance of public space, and an ethics of care and maintenance. …

Internet Time Machine

A guided tour through the past, present, and future of logging on

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Photo: Stella Dauer via flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

This story is part of the Internet Time Machine, a collection about life online in the 2010s.

At my job teaching college students, I’m occasionally mistaken for one. I’ve found that a good way to make students take me seriously on the first day is to mention that I remember a time before the internet.

Of course that’s not true given a precise interpretation of what the internet actually is. But I’m certainly old enough to remember PSA-like videos coaxing the casual newbie into the exciting, if intimidating, world of cyberspace. Such videos often begin the same way, with a middle-aged man voicing all of the hypothetical questions you must be having: “But what exactly is the internet?” “How much will it cost?” …


Jenny Odell

artist and author of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (Melville House) //

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