Kaitlyn Tiffany interviews Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.
Highlights and marginalia:
“The villain here is not necessarily the internet, or even the idea of social media,” she writes. “It is the invasive logic of commercial social media, and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy, and distraction.”
Yes! While these tools will necessarily be biased by their creators’ biases, they aren’t necessarily evil. But the prevalent model isn’t people-focused, it’s profit-focused, and that means it has different incentives than it might otherwise.
A lot of self-help books have this rhetoric of “do this one thing and your life will change forever,” you’ll never have to read this book again, and you’ll just be fine. I think this is very different; you have to know that you’re going to keep getting sucked back in and be realistic about that.
I think if more self-help books were honest about the fact that you’ll need to revisit them, they’d be more useful, but we’d also probably have a lot fewer self-help books.
What if social media were a public utility — one you used for your own purposes and left alone otherwise? What if there were no profit incentive to trap you in a loop of seductive, brightly colored apps?
One of the things I talk about in the last chapter is this idea of a social network that’s actually a utility, where you go to it to do the thing you wanted to do and then you leave. It’s just sort of there for you to use, like a landline.
I love this idea. Odell talks about a Chrome extension that hides her Facebook feed. This is essentially what I’ve done, but manually: I follow no one on Facebook. I do kind of treat it like a landline: if I want to catch up with a particular person, I head over to their timeline and browse it directly. This mitigates the problem Odell describes here:
A lot of times you’re going to a site because you have some idea of something you needed to do or see, and then 20 minutes later, you have no idea why you’re there.
Contrary to recommendations from Silicon Valley iconoclasts like Jaron Lanier to delete your social media accounts, Odell suggests that there is value in keeping something like them while reclaiming our attention:
we actually really need something like social media. Especially in a time when a lot of people live far away from family, it’s actually really important, I think, to stay connected to other people.
It’s that something like that sticks with me. Could the IndieWeb be the something like that she means? She has me pondering the ways we kept in touch before Web 2.0 and how I can replicate them now to take advantage of the affordances of the modern web without succumbing to that villainous commercial logic.
I found this because Whitney tweeted it.