How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

★★★★★

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Buy this book ~May 12, 2019 Books read in 2019

Highlights

I find that I'm looking at my phone less these days. It's not because I went to an expensive digital detox retreat, or because I deleted any apps from my phone, or anything like that. I stopped looking at my phone because I was looking at something else, something so absorbing that I couldn't turn away. That's the other thing that happens when you fall in love. Friends complain that you're not present or that you have your head in the clouds; companies dealing in the attention economy might say the same thing about me, with my head lost in the trees, the birds, even the weeds growing in the sidewalk.

If I had to give you an image of how I feel about the attention economy now, as opposed to in 2017, I'd ask you to imagine a tech conference. Like so many conferences, it would be in another city, perhaps another state. The subject of this conference would be persuasive design, with talks by the likes of the Time Well Spent people, about how horrible the attention economy is and how we can design our way around it and optimize our lives for something better. Initially I'd find these talks very interesting, and I would learn a lot about how I'm being manipulated by Facebook and Twitter. I would be shocked and angry. I would spend all day thinking about it.

But then, maybe on the second or third day, you would see me get up and go outside to get some fresh air. Then I'd wander a little bit farther, to the nearest park. Then—and I know this because it happens to me often—I'd hear a bird and go looking for it. ...

Before long, the conference would be over, and I would have missed most of it. A lot of things would have happened there that are important and useful. For my part, I wouldn't have much to show for my "time well spent"—no pithy lines to tweet, no new connections, no new followers. I might only tell one or two other people about my observations and the things I learned. Otherwise, I'd simply store them away, like seeds that might grow some other day if I'm lucky.

Seen from the point of view of forward-pressing, productive time, this behavior would appear delinquent. I'd look like a drop-out. But from the point of view of the place, I'd look like someone who was finally paying it attention. And from the point of view of myself, the person actually experiencing my life, and to whom I will ultimately answer when I die—I would know that I spent that day on Earth. In moments like this, even the question itself of the attention economy fades away. If you asked me to answer it, I might say—without lifting my eyes from the things growing and creeping along the ground—"I would prefer not to."

pp. 183–185
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