Today we proudly launch a new category, Wily Mktg, to merge the professional pursuits of the Wily Wordsmith and Marketing Consultant with the free-your-time promise of BreakAway. They overlap swimmingly. And my career advisors tell me I should write more about my craft. A new book promoting “doing nothing” provides the perfect starting point.

That book is Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, and it prescribes the medicine we all need right about now.

  • Monetizing the masses

One of my favorite hobby-treats is attending live music. LIVE music. As in, real artists on stage + real people in the audience + all the exciting sideshows that make for the consummate concert experience. Lately, the ultimate sign of audience approval is when people stand up and hold their phones to the show. Recording? Maybe But it feels like something bigger. And sorta surreal.

This ritual happens everywhere, actually—from pro sports events to elementary music concerts. Participating in the present is becoming less important than engagement through your gadgets.

This is one of the themes of a Ms. Odell’s book. She takes a rather deep dive into the political, spiritual, and moral implications of our relatively new fixation—but moreso emphasizes the oft-ignored reality that these beasts have masterfully monetized our attention for the profit of (what are suddenly) the largest corporations in the world. And, by association and with boundless budgets, their advertisers.

  • Where did all the tribes go?

I vividly remember the early days of this technological revolution. While overwhelming, the magnetism of suddenly connecting with people who are also into, say, Kate Bush or rising minor-leaguers made communities and minds and explode. We created and joined “tribes.” “Movements” aiming to change the world sprang up like wild ferns in spring. That’s still around, but buried.

Meanwhile, we have gradually become living, breathing algorithms that allow corporations to do target-marketing with scary precision. We may not like the idea—or we may buy right into it—but Odell asserts that we’re losing our attention span and ability to understand context. We know only, and live only for, the present. The meaning of that “message” on the phone is vague, yet becomes how we perceive and experience the present. Over time, we become addicted to the stimuli and lose touch with the real world around us.

Meanwhile, we become evermore under the control of Big Brothers like Google, Facebook, and Amazon who know more about us than we’ll ever know, keep us increasingly linked, and transform this circle of attention-connection into billions.

  • The solution: Nothing

Ms. Odell suggests an intentional effort to disconnect, or at least walk way from, your devices: “To stand apart is to take the view of the outsider without leaving…It means not fleeing your enemy, but knowing your enemy, which turns out not to be the world…but the channels through which you encounter it day to day.”

The BreakAway premise holds that fleeing is not only fantastic fun, but spiritually transformative. And whether you use your break time to see the world or do nothing are both brilliant ideas.

With any luck, there will be time for both. And freedom means not only taking your time, but also keeping Big Brother at a distance.

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