This book may not be what you expect. Odell challenges fundamental aspects of our society, and she deliberately does not use the patterns she seeks to disrupt. This book is not a tight, efficient proof of thesis. It is a meandering conversation, almost a stream of consciousness. Odell does not force her ideas upon the reader. She thinks out loud; following where history and experience lead.
But just because it meanders does not mean it moves slowly. This book moves at the speed of thought, exploring one idea and then hopping easily to the next. It reads distinctively. Odell herself sums it up in the introduction:
It is within a blasted landscape of neoliberal determinism that this book seeks hidden springs of ambiguity and inefficiency. This is a four-course meal in the age of Solyent. But while I hope you find some relief in the invitation to simply stop or slow down, I don’t mean this to be a weekend retreat or a mere treatise on creativity. The point of doing nothing, as I define it, isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive as productive. My argument is obviously anticapitalist, especially concerning technologies that encourage a capitalist perception of time, place, self, and community. It is also environmental and historical: I propose that rerouting and deepening one’s attention to place will likely lead to awareness of one’s participation in history and in a more-than-human community. From either a social or ecological perspective, the ultimate goal of “doing nothing” is to wrest our focus from the attention economy and replant it in the public, physical realm.
Odell calls attention to aspects of our lives that many of us are blind to. She provides perspective and alternatives. Odell teaches us first about the world we’ve made and the choices we have. This book is built of well-established knowledge and wisdom, but it’s real strength is how clearly it has all been applied. This is self-awareness at the cultural scale.
Odell is writing from a place of privilege, and she acknowledges that. It is the prerogative and responsibility of those with privilege to challenge a system that keeps others in its thrall. This book is as much warning as anything. Your attention is valuable. Choose how you use it.