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“For some, there may be a kind of engineer’s satisfaction in the streamlining and networking of our entire lived experience,” writes Jenny Odell. “And yet a certain nervous feeling, of being overstimulated and unable to sustain a train of thought, lingers.”

Odell is the author of How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. And she’s a visual artist who has taught digital and physical design at Stanford since 2013, as well as done residencies at Facebook, the San Francisco Planning Department, the Dump, and the Internet Archive.

All of which is to say she’s the perfect person to talk with about creativity and attention in a world designed to flatten both. In this conversation, we discuss the difference between productivity and creativity, how artists orchestrate attention, the ideologies we use to value our time, what it means to do nothing, restoring context to our lives and words, why “groundedness requires actual ground,” lucid dreaming, the joys of bird-watching, my difficulty appreciating conceptual art, her difficulty with meditation, and much more.

Book recommendations:

Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich

The Nature and Functions of Dreaming by Ernest Hartmann

Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion by Mark Galanter

The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World by David Abram

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