Stolen Focus by Johann Hari

Our ability to pay attention is collapsing.

Synopsis - 

In the United States, teenagers can focus on one task for only sixty-five seconds at a time, and office workers average only three minutes. Like so many of us, Johann Hari was finding that constantly switching from device to device and tab to tab was a diminishing and depressing way to live. He tried all sorts of self-help solutions—even abandoning his phone for three months—but nothing seemed to work. So Hari went on an epic journey across the world to interview the leading experts on human attention—and he discovered that everything we think we know about this crisis is wrong.

We think our inability to focus is a personal failure to exert enough willpower over our devices. The truth is even more disturbing: our focus has been stolen by powerful external forces that have left us uniquely vulnerable to corporations determined to raid our attention for profit. Hari found that there are twelve deep causes of this crisis, from the decline of mind-wandering to rising pollution, all of which have robbed some of our attention. In Stolen Focus, he introduces readers to Silicon Valley dissidents who learned to hack human attention, and veterinarians who diagnose dogs with ADHD. He explores a favela in Rio de Janeiro where everyone lost their attention in a particularly surreal way, and an office in New Zealand that discovered a remarkable technique to restore workers’ productivity.

Crucially, Hari learned how we can reclaim our focus—as individuals, and as a society—if we are determined to fight for it. Stolen Focus will transform the debate about attention and finally show us how to get it back.

Review - 

This is a powerful book shedding light on the battle we are having with attention spans. I have noticed in recent years that after working hard on my ADD mind's ability to focus, I was slipping again. As I read the author's personal battle, what research uncovered, what people working within the industry (or those who had, but chose to walk away) had to say on the subject, and the effect of the enormous deluge of information we now have to process daily, I was stunned.

The issues facing us all became clear. The explosion of instant access to mountains of information makes it impossible to truly and deeply internalize and understand it all. Interruptions at work and home are constant and distractions a siren call to take us away from it all.  Most difficult, almost all of what is offered us on the web is designed to keep us engaged for as long as possible. Increasing users time of engagement is their measure of success.

The book does go on to look at other things like ADHD, stress, poverty and more as it examines how these can influence a person's inability to focus, but for me the biggest take away was being aware of how those who write the programs are subtly trying to keep me engaged. I'm starting there. 

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Meet the Author - 

Johann Hari is the author of three New York Times best-selling books, and the Executive Producer of an Oscar-nominated movie and an eight-part TV series starring Samuel L. Jackson. His books have been translated into 40 languages, and been praised by a broad range of people, from Oprah to Noam Chomsky, from Elton John to Naomi Klein.

Johann was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and when he was a year old, his family moved to London, where he grew up and where he has lived for most of his life. He studied Social and Political Science at King’s College, Cambridge, and graduated with a Double First.

He has written over the past decade for some of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the Spectator, Le Monde Diplomatique, the Sydney Morning Herald, and Politico. He has appeared on NPR’s All Thing Considered, HBO’s Realtime With Bill Maher, The Joe Rogan Podcast, the BBC’s Question Time, and many other popular shows.

Johann was twice named ‘National Newspaper Journalist of the Year’ by Amnesty International. He has also been named ‘Cultural Commentator of the Year’ and ‘Environmental Commentator of the Year’ at the Comment Awards.

He lives half the year in London, and spends the other half of the year traveling to research his books.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Facebook ~ Instagram ~ Twitter ~ Youtube