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Jenny Odell: Our Vision of ‘Productivity’ is Way Too Narrow

In this episode of Just the Right Book with Roxanne Coady, Jenny Odell joins Roxanne Coady to discuss her book How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.

From the episode:

Roxanne Coady: You want us to question what we consider is productive. We’re geared towards being productive, and we see being on social media as being a form of productivity. How do you want us to rethink productivity?

Jenny Odell: I am just advocating for a more nuanced idea of what productivity is. Currently, I think we are working with a pretty narrow and literal version of it, which can easily be summed up by “forward at all costs” or producing new things just because new things need to be produced.

Coady: New things need to be bigger and better.

Odell: Right. They need to exhibit some type of growth. We also privilege the idea of straightforward production, like putting something new in the world that wasn’t there before. Things like inventions and the word “innovation” are tied to that ethos or obsession with something demonstratively new. At the same time, there are all these things like acts of maintenance, care, rest and sometimes even removing technology or having a simpler design, where that is exactly the right thing to do but because we have this very narrow version of productivity those acts appear going backwards somehow because we are stuck in that metaphor.

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Jenny Odell is an artist and writer who teaches at Stanford, has been an artist-in-residence at places like the San Francisco dump, Facebook, the Internet Archive, and the San Francisco Planning Department, and has exhibited her art all over the world. She lives in Oakland.

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Roxanne Coady is owner of R.J. Julia, one of the leading independent booksellers in the United States, which—since 1990—has been a community resource not only for books, but for the exchange of ideas. In 1998, Coady founded Read To Grow, which provides books for newborns and children and encourages parents to read to their children from birth. RTG has distributed over 1.5 million books.

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