In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do.
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In her eyes, there are two primary culprits responsible for our modern malaise: social media and the cult of productivity. The former robs us of attention, foments hysteria and anxiety, and collapses context (“keeping us trapped in a fearful present”). The latter dictates that any surplus time we do have be used “productively,” driven towards some end goal or task. But where Odell’s book really excels is in examining how those dual forces snake their way, harmfully, into society. It’s not just that we’re too online and too burnt out. It’s that there are negative societal effects downstream from those behaviors: lack of face-to-face interaction erodes compassion; constant distraction and noise keeps us from acting thoughtfully, willfully, or collectively; always following the “North Star of productivity” means we see everything as a resource to be used, which is dehumanizing and environmentally destructive.
There’s a way out, though, Odell says. She advocates practicing a new type of civil disobedience in everyday society: withdraw your attention from social media and reroute it into more meditative pursuits that allow us to deepen our capacity for focus, connection, and curiosity. Doing so also allows you to “drop out of the stream of productive time,” create room for “non-instrumental” encounters that aren’t so goal-driven, and re-establish yourself as a human in space, not as an avatar in an Internet feed. (Odell, for instance, is an avid bird-watcher and taker of long walks.) In that sense, she’s not really advocating for doing nothing; it’s only what we’ve come to classify as “nothing” in a society where value is determined solely by the calculus of productivity and usefulness.
Social Media Manager Sydney Bradley
Excerpt from “Why ‘Doing Nothing’ Is the Best Self-Care for the Internet Era” in GQ by Clay Skipper
Do you know, at first I meant to conceal the fact that I corrupted them, but that was a mistake — that was my first mistake! But truth whispered to me that I was lying, and preserved me and corrected me. But how establish paradise — I don’t know, because I do not know how to put it into words. After my dream I lost command of words. All the chief words, anyway, the most necessary ones. But never mind, I shall go and I shall keep talking, I won’t leave off, for anyway I have seen it with my own eyes, though I cannot describe what I saw. But the scoffers do not understand that. It was a dream, they say, delirium, hallucination. Oh! As though that meant so much! And they are so proud! A dream! What is a dream? And is not our life a dream? I will say more. Suppose that this paradise will never come to pass (that I understand), yet I shall go on preaching it. And yet how simple it is: in one day, in one hour everything could be arranged at once! The chief thing is to love others like yourself, that’s the chief thing, and that’s everything; nothing else is wanted — you will find out at once how to arrange it all. And yet it’s an old truth which has been told and retold a billion times — but it has not formed part of our lives! The consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness — that is what one must contend against. And I shall. If only everyone wants it, it can be arranged at once.
Editorial Intern Sam Nicol
Excerpt from “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
After a few minutes, I noticed a sound. Not a new sound– I’d been aware of it even in my half-dreaming state. His breathing, perhaps, but then I thought, No, it’s the sea. Had to be–we were only a few hundred years away from the shore. I listened and let it soothe me, the ceaseless ebb and flow, the crash of the breaking waves, the grating sigh of its retreat. It was like lying on the chest of somebody who loves you, somebody you know you can trust–though the sea loves nobody and can never be trusted. I was immediately aware of a new desire, to be part of it, to dissolve into it: the sea that feels nothing and can never be hurt.
Editorial Intern Bel Banta
Excerpt from The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker