Friday Notes || No.30

On proteas, snowy owls & resisting the attention economy

Hello, and welcome to Friday Notes. This week’s edition of Friday Notes is all about proteas, snowy owls and resisting the attention economy.

Friday Notes is my weekly newsletter round-up of my own work together with a curated list of the essays, articles, music, web comics, videos, films and books I enjoy each week, online and off. I hope you find something that interests you.

What I've been enjoying this week

1. Texas has been badly hit by winter storms and power cuts this week, and my heart goes out to everyone who is living without heat, water and electricity. I really hope that weather conditions improve and that supplies can be restored as soon as possible. I can’t imagine what it is like to experience supply disruption for such an extended period of time. I hope that if you, your family, friends or community have been impacted that you are able to receive the support you need to get through this difficult time.

The human suffering is immense, but animals and plant life have been badly hit, too. This week volunteers have been collecting sea turtles, stunned by the cold, and taking them to a makeshift rescue centre to try and help as many of them survive as possible. It is stories like this that buoy my faith in humanity.

2. Plants are amazing. Researchers working on a case study in Reading in the UK have discovered that Cotoneaster - a genus of flowering shrubs - is helpful in our battle against urban air pollution. Results from the study indicated that more complex, hairy species such as franchetii are effective in absorbing particulate air pollution on urban streets which experience high traffic flows. You can read a summary of the research in The Guardian newspaper here, but the study itself is open access and you can read it in full here. Plants alone won’t save us from ourselves - we also need to move away from hydrocarbons and generate electricity in a sustainable way - but it is exciting to know that plants can potentially be one part of a multi-pronged approach to tackling some of the environmental challenges we are currently facing. We need to protect plants and the physical world as if our lives depend on them, because quite frankly they do.

3. While the pool remains closed I am walking 50 miles / 80km a week as my main form of exercise, and so each week I burn through a lot of podcasts to keep me company and my mind off the task at hand. This week I listened to an episode of For The Wild with guest Jenny Odell; a writer, artist and birdwatcher, and author of ‘How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy’. In this episode Jenny discusses her work and thoughts on social media, and the way taking time away from social media feeds allows her to think deeply and feel more connected to the physical world around her.

It’s a really interesting discussion, and something I have given a lot of thought to over the years as well. I have a love hate relationship with Instagram. I love Instagram for the inspiration it provides me, and for the community of artists I find there. I hate Instagram because it is a marketplace, rewards clickbait, is highly addictive and, as with other popular platforms, has a problem with hate speech and the viral spread of misinformation.

Last summer I took two months away from Instagram and it took me a full week to break my twitch habit of using the autofill in my browser history to dip into my feed multiple times a day. This is despite the design modifications I have made to the layout of the app in my browser to help regulate my own behaviour and counter the way the app has been designed to keep me engaging with it. To accomplish this, I use a custom CSS add-on which I have set up to hide the most addictive ‘variable rewards’ elements - the stories bar, the pink rings around people’s avatars, and the notifications pop-ups.

I feel very conflicted about Instagram, because I really do love the community and over time I have shaped my feed to be a positive place filled with artistic people who inspire me, rather than individuals who are there to make their livings through product placement as ‘content creators’. Yet at the same time, I am conscious of how much time I spend on Instagram and do notice a big difference in my attention span when I take an extended break from it.

Jenny also talks of digital field guide communities and apps like iNaturalist, and how they are the closest thing she has experienced to a utopian internet that isn’t, by design, packaging up her attention as a product. We need more communities like that. I would dearly love to see a photography or image based platform emerge which didn’t rely on an advertising model to make money, something like how Flickr used to be, and even Instagram in its very early days.

There are no easy answers. For me, it’s all about finding a balance and that is forever a work in progress. I encourage you to give the episode a listen, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

4. I listened to this one last week but forgot to include it. This episode of Field Guides is all about snowy owls, featuring some snowy owl calls and lots of interesting facts.

5. Finally, this episode of IDoP is all about proteas, fire, conservation and citizen science, featuring guest Robbie Blackhall-Miles of Fossil Plants, ‘an accredited botanic garden, research nursery, ecological restoration and horticultural consultancy practice based in North Wales’. You may know proteas from the beautiful cut flowers, but there is so much more to the genus and this episode was both fascinating and inspiring to listen to in equal measure.

That's all for this week, thanks for reading.

See you next Friday!


If you're reading this for the first time, hello, my name is Stéphanie. I'm a documentary photographer, filmmaker and writer, and I live in Birmingham in the UK. I hold a PhD in environmental social science from the University of Birmingham, and write about art, society, politics and the environment.

You can find out more about me and my work at these other places on the web:

Portfolio Website | Personal Blog | Flickr | Vimeo | YouTube | Instagram