How to Do Nothing #

How to Do Nothing is a book by American artist and writer Jenny Odell.

Thoughts #

  • Trees (specifically Old Survivor, an ancient redwood in the hills around the San Francisco Bay) as a metaphor for “resisting in place”. I liked this analogy a lot and it made me think a bit about the Ents in Lord of the Rings.
  • Similarly birds, as an example of how to observe, listen and (re-) assume your place in your surroundings.
  • Really speaking to me so far, a very stark reminder of how different life is today to what it was a generation ago purely because of the Internet, and how it didn’t necessarily have to be this way. Thinking alot about independent web and self-kindness and their inherent conflict with GTD/productivity. Is this obsession with “doing” just setting an inevitable course towards burnout?

Quotes #

Our very idea of productivity is premised on the idea of producing something new, whereas we do not tend to see maintenance and care as productive in the same way.

As articulations of retreat, both Thiel’s essay and Walden Two seem almost to have been reverse-engineered by Hannah Arendt’s classic 1958 work The Human Condition, in which she diagnoses the age-old temptation to substitute design for the political process. Throughout history, she observes, men have been driven by the desire to escape “the haphazardness and moral irresponsibility inherent in a plurality of agents.” Unfortunately, she concludes, “the hallmark of all such escapes is rule, that is, the notion that men can lawfully and politically live together only when some are entitled to command and the others forced to obey.

Writing about Walden Two, psychology professor Susan X. Day observes an unrealistic absence of friend groups or pairs among the people in the novel, even though this phenomenon is so natural that it occurs in other animals and “proceeds inevitably from the differentiation of individuals.

To stand apart is to take the view of the outsider without leaving, always oriented toward what it is you would have left. It means not fleeing your enemy, but knowing your enemy, which turns out not to be the world—contemptus mundi—but the channels through which you encounter it day to day. It also means giving yourself the critical break that media cycles and narratives will not, allowing yourself to believe in another world while living in this one.

In a 2012 interview, Hsieh says that he is not an endurance artist, yet he also says that the most important word to him is “will.” This makes sense if we accept that Cage Piece is less a feat of endurance than an experiment. In the interview, Hsieh, who was preoccupied with time and survival, described the process by which people fill up their time in an attempt to fill their lives with meaning. He was earnestly interested in the opposite: What would happen if he emptied everything out? His search for this answer occasioned the experiment’s many harsh “controls”—for it to work, it needed to be pure. “I brought my isolation to the public while still preserving the quality of it,” he said.

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