Yesterday morning, instead of blogging first thing or browsing social media, I spent the first few minutes of the day reading Offscreen magazine’s interview with Jenny Odell, author of How to Do Nothing. At first, I wasn’t particularly interested in learning how to do nothing. I can relate to the feeling she mentions, that we all feel like we always have be productive, to be doing something with our time, and to have something to show for the minutes and hours of our days. But that’s how I’ve always been, and I don’t particularly think it’s something I need to fix about myself. I like doing and being productive. Having something to show for my time is satisfying to me.
However, the very first question of the interview maybe changed my mind:
Much of your book and your work overall is about observation. What are the skills required for observation and where or how do we obtain them?Interview with Jenny Odell in Offscreen Magazine, issue 22
I would really like to improve my observation skills. How does one do that? Odell’s answer didn’t really address that question, at least not in a way that resonated with me, and I’m left wondering if it seems obvious to those who are good observers. “How do you observe? You just observe.” You want to be a writer? Then write. Do the thing you say you want to do.
When I picture myself out in the world, in the scenarios I think I’d want to observe, I’m always with book, notebook, or camera. And when I’m actually out in the world, I’ll pull out my phone or my notebook or my book when I’ve got idle time. By doing — by scrolling, writing, reading — I turn my attention to something that’s not the world around me. I do not observe.
I thought I didn’t need or want to learn about doing nothing. But perhaps the thing about doing nothing is that doing nothing, and allowing yourself to do nothing, makes room for observation.