In one word: Cerebral
Cannonball Read Bingo: Flora
I found myself at the MOST adorable independent bookstore (swoon) and spent a delicious amount of time perusing the shelves. That day I was in a particular mood regarding my social media use, railing against the timesuck that for me is scrolling Facebook and Instagram. I was looking for some novel that I can no longer identify. They didn’t have it in stock, but I found this one instead. It had pretty good reviews on Goodreads (more social media!) and was one of Obama’s best books of 2019. SOLD.
This book was not what I was looking for, but I am glad to have found it. I was hoping for a practical guide to manage my media and phone usage in the modern world, but that’s not what this book is. (And really, I don’t think that exists. If managing my phone or media use was easy, we would all be doing it instead of gnashing our teeth at our burgeoning digital addictions).
So what IS this book about? Odell is an artist and writer and this book is as much an examination of herself as it is a look at “the attention economy,” i.e., the processes, technology, and modern way of life that collectively grab and hold our attention. This book is much more academic and cerebral than I was expecting, enterlaced with Odell’s own philosophy, and aims to connect with nature. She really has a solid handle on being a human being, vs a human doing, as she spends much time in nature preserves, observing birds, and resisting the urge to be connected and driven by outside forces. She is aware of the inherent privilege in such a lifestyle and doesn’t simply try to “do as I say” and rarely looks to give advice, but instead is presenting a lot of information to ponder.
In the first chapter of the book, she discussed the creation of the structure of the standard workday. Back in 1886, workers pushed for an eight-hour workday, and the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions had its own song to promote it. “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will.” That “what we will” line really hit me like a bolt of lightning. I’m in a more-or-less standard office job. How was I spending my eight hours of “what we will?” Obviously, that eight isn’t leisure time. I still have to eat, get dressed, not to mention take care of family and all the other timesucks of adulthood. But when all that was one, what was I “willing” into my life? Well, at present, much of my time is spent reading about minor acquaintances or looking at silly regurgitated videos. So now moving ahead I will try to take a pause and ask if this is really how I want to spend my time.
But I’m working against an entire industry. The research and information she presented about social media design made me feel better about my own social media use. I now understand that I’m a patsy, fighting a daily war against entire companies and teams of engineers and algorithms all working to keep me looking at Instagram reels. So what does this all mean? I move ahead a little more informed with more knowledge, less guilt, and the understanding that it won’t get any easier but with diligence and small steps, I can find ways to distance myself and direction my attention in meaningful ways.