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ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO QUIT? How to get offline, do more "good nothing," and preserve your sanity.

CAN THE VERY online ever unplug? The question has spawned a cottage industry: everything from offline vacations and "digital detox" apps to books about how we might uncouple ourselves from an economic order in which our very attention is a commodity. Two thoughtful offerings in the latter category come from Oakland, California, artist Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, and New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino, author of Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion (whose press materials describe her as "what Susan Sontag would have been like if she had brain damage from the internet"). Along with Ashley Feinberg, a reporter for Slate and a twitchily funny Twitter presence, Odell and Tolentino joined Mother Jones in an online chat, condensed here, about how to reclaim and retrain our attention in an economy built on capturing and manipulating it. We talked over Slack, which was a bit like holding a mindfulness seminar on the infield of the lndy 500.

TOMMY CRAGGS: Jenny, your book concludes with a homily about "manifest dismantling." That's your concept. It isn't just a matter of logging off; it's an ethic that requires a wholesale redefinition of "progress." How's it work?

JENNY ODELL: It has to do with recognizing the value of (and caring for) what's already here, rather than trying to replace it or pursue "innovation" for the sake of innovation. It's basically the opposite of "disrupt."

TC: You write about it as if it were a physical ordeal, to be "trained" for, with "exercises in attention." What sort of exercises do you mean? JO: A lot of the examples I give for re-training attention come from art. There's been a lot of talk about persuasive design [the practice of influencing human behavior through screen elements such as notifications], whether designers should be making "more ethical" persuasive design, i.e. persuading people to spend their time "better" (read: more productively). It just makes me suspicious. I would like to re-center the training of attention in the individual.

JIA TOLENTINO: I've implicitly been trying to retrain my attention for a few years now: putting social media blockers on my phone, making sure I read a paper book at night, no notifications, etc. But it has been helpful over the last year to really bathe in the desperation of why and to replace it with an idea of what you could actively pay attention to instead--an idea of what it feels like to sustain those shifts rather than just to efficiently slot them in.

TC: You both seem to conceive of attention-economy self-care in the Audre Lorde sense of self-care--politically engaged, an assertion of the value of the self, that sort of thing.

JO: Yeah, self-care that actually contains reflection and the capacity for surprise, versus the sort of "digital detox in order to perform better."

JT: I'd been thinking of the attention training as a sort of a common-sense tool to function, which was OK but not the shift I needed, because all of my life is already set up around efficient production. And now I am trying to do more good nothing. I always think about the fact that everything really, really amazing in life is both inefficient and essentially beyond the reach of technology. Love is inefficient, true friendship can be inefficient, true experience can't be captured--I think about trying to safeguard those things.

TC: I want to know about this process of doing more "good nothing."

JT: It was, as Jenny puts it, an ethic of living that actively valued maintenance and caregiving over production, which is something that I have always I think tried to do. Every year my secret New Year's resolution is to be a better friend and community member, but the incentives to value production over everything were doubled by certain things over my past year. So I started thinking that if I didn't [retrain my attention] I would have a scorched-earth landfill in my brain instead of a backyard. And I bought a bunch of plants and considered in what ways I could behave in a way that was more inefficient and conscientious (and fun).

JO: I just had someone email me about how she adopted a kitten while she was reading my book (!) and she had similar feelings.

JT: Having a dog has always helped me with doing good nothing. Plants have helped--I have so many; I went from 0 to 17. Trying to reorient my life toward purposeless spontaneous experience has helped.

JO: Jia, do you ever feel pleasantly creeped out by the fact that something is growing in your apartment.

JT: Yes! I wish I could look at my plants move. Basically I've been trying to think more like I'm on acid all the time, and it's helped ... Like when you're on acid you simply cannot look at your phone, too. You are dazzled by the miracle of being alive. How I'm tryna be. Ashley feinberg: Oh man with notifications turned off, I completely forgot we were doing this.

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Title Annotation:MIXED MEDIA; Jenny Odell and Jia Tolentino
Author:Craggs, Tommy
Publication:Mother Jones
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2019
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Next Article:STRETCHING THE CANVAS: The white-on-white canon of modern art gets reimagined.

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