Is the best way to solve climate change to “do nothing?” “- TechCrunch

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When it comes to climate change, it may seem that a book called “How to Do Nothing” would not only be irrelevant, but also downright obscene and even dangerous. Not to mention that after more than a year of the pandemic, many people are understandably tired of continuing to keep their lives empty of social activities.

Yet playing with our notions of action and contemplation is precisely the blueprint that Jenny Odell laid out in her lapidary work, a meditation that is, ironically, a call to action.

Odell is a Bay Area star, who has served as artist in residence at various institutions, from the Internet Archive to Recology, the San Francisco waste collection and treatment company. Her artistic work is focused on attention, on the details that surround us in this world and what we can learn from it. It is an activity that takes him to bird watching and take long walks in Oakland public parks such as the Morcom Rose Garden.

His book, it may be helpful to note, is captioned “Resisting the Attention Economy” and Odell’s mission is to help wean a generation, well, a population of negativity. spasmodic that emanates from our social media platforms. In fact, she has a more ambitious goal: to wean people from the idea that productivity is the only value in life – that action is the only useful measure by which to measure oneself. She wants to draw our attention to more important things.

“I fully understand where a life of sustained attention leads. In short, this leads to awareness, ”she wrote in the introduction. The key word here is sustainability – and it is also the link with sustainability and the climate in general.

We are not lacking in information, data or opinions. In fact, we are overwhelmed by the dross of human thought. Some studies have shown that modern knowledge workers read more words per day than ever before in history, but they read social media posts, emails, Slack messages, and other ephemera that munch on and off. collectively devour our attention. What remains is, for many of us, not much thought at all. The world is more hectic and chaotic than ever before, but in the process, we’ve traded a better understanding of ourselves and our place in this world for an endless deluge of media. Odell wants us to take this imbalance and level it out.

For her, that means practicing a more sustained form of attention. It’s a skill most of us have little practice with (a deficit we might not even be aware of, ironically), and indeed, maintaining attention can even mean regularly refusing to take care of ourselves. engage with the world around us. This is a good thing in his analysis. “At their highest level, such refusals can signify the individual capacity for self-directed action against the permanent flow; at the very least, they interrupt the monotony of everyday life.

Controlling our attention, directing it, and filtering the noise of contemporary life does not result in more atomization and narcissism, but rather a sense of being more collective. “When the pattern of your attention has changed, you render your reality differently. You start to move and act in a different world, ”she writes. Suddenly, the trees and flowers that were once the backdrop for our brunch walks become a complex and elegant life in their own right. We deepen our camaraderie with our friends and colleagues in a way we never could with an emoji in Slack. We develop the potential to work together to solve problems.

Climate change books Summer 2021

Our sustained attention also allows us to notice the details of what is changing around us, the subtle variations in our environment that come from a warming planet. “Things like the American obsession with individualism, personalized filter bubbles and personal branding – anything that emphasizes atomized and competing individuals striving in parallel, never touching each other – does the same. violence to human society than a dam to a watershed. ” We can’t fix what we don’t see, and with our fragmented attention, we really don’t see much.

The irony, of course, is that if tech products dissolve attention, their construction takes an extraordinary amount of it. While some startup founders get rich on a whim and others receive product ideas from friends or VCs, the vast majority have learned to maintain their focus on a market or customer for periods at times. extraordinarily long in order to notice the gaps in a market. A founder recently told me that he had been working with clients in his market for over a decade before finally understanding a need that was not being met with existing solutions.

What is missing today in the tech and startup community is to connect that user empathy and focus on the product market to the attention we need in all other aspects of our business. life today. Odell analyzes it a bit more negatively than I would: we do have these skills, and in fact, we use them quite specifically. We just don’t use them extensively enough to get our minds to look at our friendships, our communities, and our planet in a deeper light.

Doing nothing allows us to see what matters and what does not. When it comes to solving big problems, especially some of the more difficult ones like climate change, it is precisely doing nothing that allows us to see the right way to do something.


How to do nothing: resist the attention economy by Jenny Odell
Maison Melville, 2019, 256 pages

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