e-flux Conversations has been closed to new contributions and will remain online as an archive. Check out our new platform for short-form writing, e-flux Notes.

e-flux conversations

A Manifesto for Opting Out of the Attention Economy

The theme of the newest issue of the British fringe culture magazine Huck is burnout. The issue includes articles on escaping the attention economy, “joyful activism,” and the TV show Black Mirror. The introduction to the issue, entitled “A Guide to Unplugging from Capitalism (for Sanity’s Sake),” is penned by Jenny Odell, author of the acclaimed new book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. Odell writes about the difficulty of finding downtime in a world that constantly prods us to be productive, and how she discovered that doing something meaningful sometimes requires you to do nothing first. Here’s an excerpt:

I discovered that what I was trying to escape was not politics or the Internet or other people. I was running away from a ruthlessly capitalist understanding of myself and my time – a mindset in which I and my life were things to be optimised, where time was ever more exactly money, and where my reactions and anxiety were fodder for social media companies built to maximise engagement.

I found that when I could step away – be it for five minutes or for five hours – what flooded in was context. Time and space expanded out of the myopic, amnesiac present that characterised the rest of my day, allowing me to perceive the traces of not only the ecology but of the history of a place I thought I knew. I was allowed to reflect, process and ask questions. Social media has bred an environment hostile to subtlety, context and the idea of changing your mind.

It also tends to hide the complicated interrelationships that bind us to others, especially those we pay no attention to. What could be more different from this kind of thinking than simply looking without judgment, learning something and being surprised? These are the moments in which I forget myself – in the reified sense of my “self”, the tiny circle on Twitter – and at the same time remember that I am alive.

Image via Huck.