Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design has named Jenny Odell as its 2020 Class Day speaker. Odell will address the GSD’s Class of 2020 and their families during Harvard’s 2020 graduation exercises on Thursday, May 28. Odell’s talk is scheduled to begin approximately at 1:10 p.m. EST, to be streamed live on the GSD’s YouTube channel.
Odell is an Oakland-based, multidisciplinary visual artist and writer whose work encourages close observation of the everyday. She has been an artist in residence at the San Francisco Planning Department, the Internet Archive, and Recology SF (a.k.a. “the dump”), and has exhibited at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the New York Public Library, the Marjorie Barrick Museum (Las Vegas), Les Rencontres D’Arles, Fotomuseum Antwerpen, Fotomuseum Winterthur, La Gaîté Lyrique (Paris), the Lishui Photography Festival (China), and East Wing (Dubai). Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, New York magazine, the Paris Review, Sierra magazine, and McSweeney’s. Odell has taught studio art at Stanford University since 2013.
Odell’s New York Times-bestselling book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, was published by Melville House in 2019. The New York Times Book Reviews praised How to Do Nothing as “A complex, smart and ambitious book that at first reads like a self-help manual, then blossoms into a wide-ranging political manifesto.” The book was named a “best book of the year” for 2019 by a variety of critics and outlets, including Time magazine, The New Yorker, NPR, GQ magazine, Elle magazine, and Fortune magazine.
In 2016, feeling a sense of inability to create art, Odell found herself sitting and “doing nothing” in Oakland’s Rose Garden. It is there she formed the ideas that became How to Do Nothing, which she first discussed in a lecture at the 2017 EYEO technology conference and later posted on Medium, which went viral. In How to Do Nothing, Odell applies the lenses of art, philosophy, literature, historical events, and science to challenge readers to take a deeper look at the forces vying for our attention and how we respond. She describes human attention as the most precious—but the most overdrawn—resource we have. She observes that once people start paying a new kind of attention—one that transcends narratives of efficiency and techno-determinism—people can undertake bolder forms of political action, reimagine our role in the environment, and arrive at more meaningful understandings of happiness and progress.
To see a full schedule of 2020 Class Day and Diploma Ceremony exercises, please visit the GSD’s Commencement webpage.