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Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention--and How to Think Deeply Again Hardcover – January 25, 2022
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“The book the world needs in order to win the war on distraction.”—Adam Grant, author of Think Again
“Read this book to save your mind.”—Susan Cain, author of Quiet
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.
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“Big-name websites and apps strive to distract because that’s the key to profitability. When we’re looking at our screens, these companies make money; when we’re not, they don’t. . . . It’s a call to arms, to be sure, and I’m tempted to tell my Twitter followers about it—but I’ve deleted the app from my phone.”—The Washington Post
“If your New Year’s resolution was to be more focused this year, then this is the book for you.[Adam] Grant describes the author as ‘a thoughtful critic of our modern malaise.’”—Inc.
“A gripping analysis of why we’ve lost the capacity to concentrate, and how we might find it again. Stolen Focus won’t just capture your attention—it will keep you thinking and rethinking long after you’ve finished it. Johann Hari is one of the most insightful critics of our modern malaise, and he’s written the book the world needs in order to win the war on distraction.”—Adam Grant
“Johann Hari writes like a dream. He’s both a lyricist and a storyteller—but also an indefatigable investigator of one of the world’s greatest problems: the systematic destruction of our attention. Read this book to save your mind.”—Susan Cain
“I don’t know anyone thinking more deeply, or more holistically, about the crisis of our collective attention than Johann Hari. This book could not be more vital. Please sit with it, and focus.”—Naomi Klein
“Superb . . . Stolen Focus is a beautifully researched and argued exploration of the breakdown of humankind’s ability to pay attention, told with the pace, sparkle, and energy of the best kind of thriller.”—Stephen Fry
“If you want to get your attention and focus back, you need to read this remarkable book. Johann Hari has cracked the code of why we’re in this crisis, and how to get out of it. We all need to hear this message.”—Arianna Huffington
“In his unique voice, Johann Hari tackles the profound dangers facing humanity from information technology and rings the alarm bell for what all of us must do to protect ourselves, our children, and our democracies.”—Hillary Clinton
“A visionary, systemic, revolutionary, and practical guide for creating the new world . . . Through his tireless research and genius insight, Johann Hari certainly snapped me to attention. This is a life-changing book.”—Eve Ensler
“A necessary book, a miracle of clarity and depth, and a resonant, deeply researched warning followed by a truly inspiring clarion call to action . . . Read it and weep, then dry your eyes and join in.”—Emma Thompson
About the Author
- Publisher : Crown (January 25, 2022)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0593138511
- ISBN-13 : 978-0593138519
- Item Weight : 1.28 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.31 x 1.22 x 9.51 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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Do you feel it? I sure do. It predates COVID-19, but like many things, the pandemic just shoved us forward, abruptly, on a path we were already headed down.
It should not surprise you that there's no single factor, but a multitutde, each with their own pernicious effect. Hari's effort here is so broad that many times I would think "hold up, I want an entire book about THIS"--and I'm sure that was a struggle for him, giving cursory mention to whole swaths of scientific research on a certain aspect. Hari is nothing if not thorough, by nature. But the scope of this necessitated that, and those end notes are the breadcrumb trails, should you choose to follow them.
The most important part about this book, in my opinion, is the framework he provides: our focus has been *stolen* and there's no easy fix. It is a collective problem with massive individual impact. He's careful to point out that there are *many* things an individual can do to make it better (or worse)--and you should absolutely attempt those things--but those things are accessible primarily to the privileged. And it's an insult to pretend otherwise. Worse, intentional efforts are made (by corporations or other parties who benefit) to blame individuals for the very problems the corporations created (and continue to profit from). Victim-blaming is real, and culturally, we're well-primed to blame the individual for everything--from blaming women who can't carry an endless unpaid care-labor burden for their difficulty in focusing to blaming kids with stressful lives for not being able to focus in a testing-obsessed educational system.
The pandemic shone a spotlight (a FOCUS) on the fact that the system doesn't work for most people, hasn't worked for some time, and is actively getting worse.
We were all collectively suffering, and some of us are starting to realize this is not an *individual* problem.
In some ways, this is a depressing, challenging book. There are no easy answers--just a whole bunch of really difficult ones. But it's a terribly important book. Because it gives a framework (a FOCUS) to the problem, which is a vital first step. We'll need to work collectively to solve this problem of focus--just like the climate crisis, just like the erosion of democracy--and I don't know if we will. We're *capable* of it, that's certain. But I don't know if we'll make that choice.
I'll leave you with a couple quotes from Hari, to get a flavor of what he's attempting, but if it's not clear: I think everyone *needs* to read this book. Addressing this problem is foundational to fixing *every* problem.
"Solving big problems requires the sustained focus of many people over many years. Democracy requires the ability of a population to pay attention long enough to identify real problems, distinguish them from fantasies, come up with solutions, and hold their leaders accountable if they fail to deliver them."
"Imagine that one day you are attacked by a bear. You will stop paying attention to your normal concerns—what you’re going to eat tonight, or how you will pay the rent. You become vigilant. Your attention flips to scanning for unexpected dangers all around you. For days and weeks afterward, you will find it harder to focus on more everyday concerns. This isn’t limited to bears. These sites make you feel that you are in an environment full of anger and hostility, so you become more vigilant—a situation where more of your attention shifts to searching for dangers, and less and less is available for slower forms of focus like reading a book or playing with your kids."
Like most people, I have problems focusing and staying on task at times. The ubiquitous allure of social media being just a click away is an ever-present temptation that often becomes a self-imposed distraction. I fight it, but I often lose the battle.
In this incredibly researched, yet easy to read, book, author and journalist Johann Hari explains many of the reasons almost all of society is struggling with this issue. Along the way I learned a few new terms like "switch cost effect" and "surveillance capitalism" that will help me improve my focus.
Some of his solutions seem a bit extreme to me (and even scary - no way I want the government taking over Facebook!) but he throws them out for consideration and to get the reader thinking about this issue and how we can individually, and even collectively, reclaim our attention. I specifically like how he tied our problems with focusing on fixing climate change with our attention crisis. In that, I think Hari makes his best points.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who'd like to reclaim some of their focus. And I'd urge any parent with young children (or anyone dreaming of becoming a parent one day) to give this a read as he spends a lot of time on ADHD and ways we can improve children's attention without drugs.
Hari quotes someone as saying "You don't get what you don't fight for" and in that I think we can all agree. Whether or not you think fighting for your attention (and for society to regain its ability to focus) is up to you. I'd encourage you to read this book before deciding either way.
Yet, I don’t agree with many of his conclusions. Which is a certain magic of stretching. I believe my focus is just fine. I think we can all do better but…
Read it. It’s good. Think for yourself and enjoy.
Top reviews from other countries
Things go slightly awry however in the second half. Johann interviews a man who says that chemicals are not tested before they are used in the environment - this is untrue (at least in the UK, if this is in the US only it should be made clear). The field of ecotoxicology may be small but it does exist and I have worked in it myself. I have LITERALLY lab-tested chemicals before they are allowed to be used in the environment. After this error I wasn't able to take the book so seriously.
Johann moves on to ADHD, which is interesting, but a lot of the information comes from neurotypical people, rather than neurodiverse people themselves.
All in all I loved the first half, I have loved Johann's other books, but the second half of this one didn't quite hit the mark.
In summary, it’s a fascinating insight and perhaps worth a read (certainly for curious conspiracy lovers!), but it is definitely not worth the price …
However the chapter that really lets the book down is the one on ADHD. It's poorly researched and points are often evidenced by stories of the form "Little Johnny was disruptive and couldn't concentrate at all and then he went on this programme and now he's excelling in all areas of his life". Don't get me wrong, there are some good points made about external factors that could be causing an increase in ADHD diagnosis, but I felt that he totally invalided ADHD as an actual condition, despite his protestations that is what he absolutely was not doing. Felt a bit gaslighty to me. It was certainly apparent that he does not have kids of his own.
The weak points evidenced by cute stories did then make me re-evaluate some of the earlier parts of the book similarly evidenced and which I had lapped up at the time.
So in summary, it's still worth buying, there's lots of good stuff in it. Just read it with a few teaspoons of salt.