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robertogreco : selfhood   6

What It Takes to Put Your Phone Away | The New Yorker
"During the first few days of my Internet decluttering, I found myself compulsively checking my unchanged in-box and already-read text messages, and scanning the same headlines over and over—attempting, as if bewitched, to see new information there. I took my dog out for longer walks, initially trying to use them for some productive purpose: spying on neighbors, planning my week. Soon I acquiesced to a dull, pleasant blankness. One afternoon, I draped myself on my couch and felt an influx of mental silence that was both disturbing and hallucinatorily pleasurable. I didn’t want to learn how to fix or build anything, or start a book club. I wanted to experience myself as soft and loose and purposeless, three qualities that, in my adulthood, have always seemed economically risky.

“Nothing is harder to do than nothing,” Jenny Odell writes, in her new book, “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy” (Melville House). Odell, a multidisciplinary artist who teaches at Stanford, is perhaps best known for a pamphlet called “There’s No Such Thing as a Free Watch,” which she put together while in residence at the Museum of Capitalism, in Oakland. Odell investigated the origins of a blandly stylish watch that was being offered for free (plus shipping) on Instagram, and found a mirrored fun house of digital storefronts that looked as though they had been generated by algorithm. The retailers advertised themselves as brands that had physical origins in glitzy Miami Beach or hip San Francisco but were, in fact, placeless nodes in a vast web of scammy global wholesalers, behind which a human presence could hardly be discerned.

Like Newport, Odell thinks that we should spend less time on the Internet. Unlike him, she wants readers to question the very idea of productivity. Life is “more than an instrument and therefore something that cannot be optimized,” she writes. To find the physical world sufficiently absorbing, to conceive of the self as something that “exceeds algorithmic description”—these are not only “ends in and of themselves, but inalienable rights belonging to anyone lucky enough to be alive.” Odell details, with earnest wonder, moments in her life when she was reoriented toward these values. After the 2016 election, she began feeding peanuts to two crows on her balcony, and found comfort in the fact that “these essentially wild animals recognized me, that I had some place in their universe.” She also developed a fascination, via Google Maps, with the creek behind her old kindergarten, and she went to see it with a friend. She followed the creek bed, which, she learned, runs beneath Cupertino’s shopping centers and Apple’s headquarters. The creek became a reminder that under the “streamlined world of products, results, experiences, reviews” there is a “giant rock whose other lifeforms operate according to an ancient, oozing, almost chthonic logic.”

Odell elegantly aligns the crisis in our natural world and the crisis in our minds: what has happened to the natural world is happening to us, she contends, and it’s happening on the same soon-to-be-irreparable scale. She sees “little difference between habitat restoration in the traditional sense and restoring habitats for human thought”; both are endangered by “the logic of capitalist productivity.” She believes that, by constantly disclosing our needs and desires to tech companies that sift through our selfhood in search of profit opportunities, we are neglecting, even losing, our mysterious, murky depths—the parts of us that don’t serve an ulterior purpose but exist merely to exist. The “best, most alive parts” of ourselves are being “paved over by a ruthless logic of use.”

“Digital Minimalism” and “How to Do Nothing” could both be categorized as highbrow how-to—an artist and a computer scientist, both of them in their thirties, wrestling with the same timely prompt. (At one point, Odell writes, she thought of her book as activism disguised as self-help.) Rather than a philosophy of technology use, Odell offers a philosophy of modern life, which she calls “manifest dismantling,” and which she intends as the opposite of Manifest Destiny. It involves rejecting the sort of progress that centers on isolated striving, and emphasizing, instead, caregiving, maintenance, and the interdependence of things. Odell grew up in the Bay Area, and her work is full of unabashed hippie moments that might provoke cynicism. But, for me—and, I suspect, for others who have come of age alongside the Internet and have coped with the pace and the precariousness of contemporary living with a mixture of ambient fatalism and flares of impetuous tenderness—she struck a hopeful nerve of possibility that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

Odell writes about the first electronic bulletin-board system, which was set up, in Berkeley, in 1972, as a “communal memory bank.” She contrasts it with Nextdoor, a notoriously paranoid neighborhood-based social platform that was recently valued at $1.5 billion, inferring that the profit motive had perverted what can be a healthy civic impulse. Newport, who does not have any social-media accounts of his own, generally treats social media’s current profit model as an unfortunate inevitability. Odell believes that there is another way. She cites, for example, the indie platform Mastodon, which is crowdfunded and decentralized. (It is made up of independently operated nodes, called “instances,” on which users can post short messages, or “toots.”) To make money from something—a forest, a sense of self—is often to destroy it. Odell brings up a famous redwood in Oakland called Old Survivor, which is estimated to be almost five hundred years old. Unlike all the other trees of its kind in the area, it was never cut down, because it was runty and twisted and situated on a rocky slope; it appeared unprofitable to loggers. The tree, she writes, is an image of “resistance-in-place,” of something that has escaped capitalist appropriation. As Odell sees it, the only way forward is to be like Old Survivor. We have to be able to do nothing—to merely bear witness, to stay in place, to create shelter for one another—to endure."



"My Newport-inspired Internet cleanse happened to coincide with a handful of other events that made me feel raw and unmanageable. It was the end of winter, with its sudden thaws and strange fluctuations—the type of weather where a day of sunshine feels like a stranger being kind to you when you cry. I had just finished writing a book that had involved going through a lot of my past. The hours per day that I had spent converting my experience into something of professional and financial value were now empty, and I was cognizant of how little time I had spent caring for the people and things around me. I began thinking about my selfhood as a meadow of wildflowers that had been paved over by the Internet. I started frantically buying houseplants.

I also found myself feeling more grateful for my phone than ever. I had become more conscious of why I use technology, and how it meets my needs, as Newport recommended. It’s not nothing that I can text my friends whenever I think about them, or get on Viber and talk to my grandmother in the Philippines, or sit on the B54 bus and distract myself from the standstill traffic by looking up the Fermi paradox and listening to any A Tribe Called Quest song that I want to hear. All these capacities still feel like the stuff of science fiction, and none of them involve Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. It occurred to me that two of the most straightforwardly beloved digital technologies—podcasts and group texts—push against the attention economy’s worst characteristics. Podcasts often demand sustained listening, across hours and weeks, to a few human voices. Group texts are effectively the last noncommercialized social spaces on many millennials’ phones.

On the first day of April, I took stock of my digital experiment. I had not become a different, better person. I had not acquired any high-value leisure activities. But I had felt a sort of persistent ache and wonder that pulled me back to a year that I spent in the Peace Corps, wandering in the dust at the foot of sky-high birch trees, terrified and thrilled at the sensation of being unknowable, mysterious to myself, unseen. I watered my plants, and I loosened my StayFocusd settings, back to forty-five daily minutes. I considered my Freedom parameters, which I had already learned to break, and let them be."
jiatolentino  2019  internet  attention  jennyodell  capitalism  work  busyness  resistance  socialmedia  instagram  twitter  facebook  infooverload  performance  web  online  nature  nextdoor  advertising  thoreau  philosophy  care  caring  maintenance  silence  happiness  anxiety  leisurearts  artleisure  commodification  technology  selfhood  identity  sms  texting  viber  podcasts  grouptexts  digitalminimalism  refusal  calnewport  mobile  phones  smartphones  screentime  ralphwaldoemerson  separatism  interdependence 
april 2019 by robertogreco
The Tyranny of Convenience - The New York Times
"Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable. Once you have used a washing machine, laundering clothes by hand seems irrational, even if it might be cheaper. After you have experienced streaming television, waiting to see a show at a prescribed hour seems silly, even a little undignified. To resist convenience — not to own a cellphone, not to use Google — has come to require a special kind of dedication that is often taken for eccentricity, if not fanaticism.

For all its influence as a shaper of individual decisions, the greater power of convenience may arise from decisions made in aggregate, where it is doing so much to structure the modern economy. Particularly in tech-related industries, the battle for convenience is the battle for industry dominance.

Americans say they prize competition, a proliferation of choices, the little guy. Yet our taste for convenience begets more convenience, through a combination of the economics of scale and the power of habit. The easier it is to use Amazon, the more powerful Amazon becomes — and thus the easier it becomes to use Amazon. Convenience and monopoly seem to be natural bedfellows.

Given the growth of convenience — as an ideal, as a value, as a way of life — it is worth asking what our fixation with it is doing to us and to our country. I don’t want to suggest that convenience is a force for evil. Making things easier isn’t wicked. On the contrary, it often opens up possibilities that once seemed too onerous to contemplate, and it typically makes life less arduous, especially for those most vulnerable to life’s drudgeries.

But we err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear. Though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. Created to free us, it can become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us.

It would be perverse to embrace inconvenience as a general rule. But when we let convenience decide everything, we surrender too much."



"By the late 1960s, the first convenience revolution had begun to sputter. The prospect of total convenience no longer seemed like society’s greatest aspiration. Convenience meant conformity. The counterculture was about people’s need to express themselves, to fulfill their individual potential, to live in harmony with nature rather than constantly seeking to overcome its nuisances. Playing the guitar was not convenient. Neither was growing one’s own vegetables or fixing one’s own motorcycle. But such things were seen to have value nevertheless — or rather, as a result. People were looking for individuality again.

Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that the second wave of convenience technologies — the period we are living in — would co-opt this ideal. It would conveniencize individuality.

You might date the beginning of this period to the advent of the Sony Walkman in 1979. With the Walkman we can see a subtle but fundamental shift in the ideology of convenience. If the first convenience revolution promised to make life and work easier for you, the second promised to make it easier to be you. The new technologies were catalysts of selfhood. They conferred efficiency on self-expression."



"I do not want to deny that making things easier can serve us in important ways, giving us many choices (of restaurants, taxi services, open-source encyclopedias) where we used to have only a few or none. But being a person is only partly about having and exercising choices. It is also about how we face up to situations that are thrust upon us, about overcoming worthy challenges and finishing difficult tasks — the struggles that help make us who we are. What happens to human experience when so many obstacles and impediments and requirements and preparations have been removed?

Today’s cult of convenience fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. Convenience is all destination and no journey. But climbing a mountain is different from taking the tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place. We are becoming people who care mainly or only about outcomes. We are at risk of making most of our life experiences a series of trolley rides.

Convenience has to serve something greater than itself, lest it lead only to more convenience. In her 1963 classic, “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan looked at what household technologies had done for women and concluded that they had just created more demands. “Even with all the new labor-saving appliances,” she wrote, “the modern American housewife probably spends more time on housework than her grandmother.” When things become easier, we can seek to fill our time with more “easy” tasks. At some point, life’s defining struggle becomes the tyranny of tiny chores and petty decisions.

An unwelcome consequence of living in a world where everything is “easy” is that the only skill that matters is the ability to multitask. At the extreme, we don’t actually do anything; we only arrange what will be done, which is a flimsy basis for a life.

We need to consciously embrace the inconvenient — not always, but more of the time. Nowadays individuality has come to reside in making at least some inconvenient choices. You need not churn your own butter or hunt your own meat, but if you want to be someone, you cannot allow convenience to be the value that transcends all others. Struggle is not always a problem. Sometimes struggle is a solution. It can be the solution to the question of who you are.

Embracing inconvenience may sound odd, but we already do it without thinking of it as such. As if to mask the issue, we give other names to our inconvenient choices: We call them hobbies, avocations, callings, passions. These are the noninstrumental activities that help to define us. They reward us with character because they involve an encounter with meaningful resistance — with nature’s laws, with the limits of our own bodies — as in carving wood, melding raw ingredients, fixing a broken appliance, writing code, timing waves or facing the point when the runner’s legs and lungs begin to rebel against him.

Such activities take time, but they also give us time back. They expose us to the risk of frustration and failure, but they also can teach us something about the world and our place in it.

So let’s reflect on the tyranny of convenience, try more often to resist its stupefying power, and see what happens. We must never forget the joy of doing something slow and something difficult, the satisfaction of not doing what is easiest. The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity."
timwu  convenience  efficiency  psychology  business  2018  inconvenience  effort  technology  economics  work  labor  conformity  value  meaning  selfhood  self-expression  change  individuality  slow  slowness  customization  individualization  amazon  facebook  apple  multitasking  experience  human  humanness  passions  hobbies  resistance  struggle  choice  skill  mobile  phones  internet  streaming  applemusic  itunes 
february 2018 by robertogreco
Bundlr - Smart Objects and the Internet of Things
"A collection of 'smart objects' that contain sensors and microprocessors to capture aspects of selfhood and the body and are part of the Internet of Things."
via:anne  smartobjects  internetofthings  selfhood  body  deborahlupton  wearable  wearables  iot  bodies 
june 2013 by robertogreco
Meta is Murder. Writing and lesser things by Mills Baker. Look at the masterpiece, and not at the frame —....
Look at the masterpiece, and not at the frame — and not at the faces of other people looking at the frame.

"Vladimir Nabokov in his lectures on Russian literature, opposing the primary type of academic and popular criticism: what we might call the demographic-reactive type. The overwhelming majority of opinion derives less from any internal response to a work of art (or political idea or cultural trend) than from what sorts of reactions we imagine on other faces looking at the frame, as it were.

If we’re observant, we see that when we encounter something we have often hardly finished perceiving it when we begin to imagine how others might react, and how still others would react to that reaction, and only at last do we begin to react according to our own demographic allegiances or resentments. We carry our friends, but still more our enemies, with us in every judgment."
millsbaker  judgement  bias  criticism  2013  trends  self  allegiances  reactions  internet  opinions  opinion  frame  framing  selfhood  theself  performance  witoldgombrowicz  vladimirnabokov  swarming  flocking  hivemind 
march 2013 by robertogreco
The Aporeticus - by Mills Baker · [We have forgotten] leisure as “non-activity” —an...
"And as networks extend their influence, it is ever-harder to experience real repose, the deep communion with reality that produces authentic meaning and enduring culture. We live in a de-cultured culture, subsumed beneath an avalanche of transitory, ephemeral, temporary meanings, soon to be buried by new posts, new photographs, new digital artifacts of those acquisitive, performative “leisure activities” which are now the primary source of meaning in our lives…

Even if one prefers the dynamic, competitive, addictive, temporary cultures of portrayal and enactment that prevail now, it is hard to imagine life without even the possibility of repose. Yet it is harder still to imagine how such repose could ever be possible without the sort of radical disconnection from the expanding technopoly which, perversely, is considered a turning-away from the world, rather than a return to it."
markets  technology  online  media  consumption  content  happiness  joy  interiority  understanding  stillness  non-activity  josefpieper  utilitarianism  materialsm  theessential  ephemeral  philosophy  living  life  purpose  meaning  marxism  technolopoly  neilpostman  competition  society  web  internet  mediation  culture  selfhood  boredom  idleness  productivity  leisure  leisurearts  2011  millsbaker  ephemerality  artleisure 
january 2012 by robertogreco

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