Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention--and How to Think Deeply Again - book cover
Psychology & Counseling
  • Publisher : Crown
  • Published : 25 Jan 2022
  • Pages : 368
  • ISBN-10 : 0593138511
  • ISBN-13 : 9780593138519
  • Language : English

Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention--and How to Think Deeply Again

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Our ability to pay attention is collapsing. From the New York Times bestselling author of Chasing the Scream and Lost Connections comes a groundbreaking examination of why this is happening-and how to get our attention back.

"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.

Editorial Reviews

"Where other books about our relationship to technology tend to focus on personal responsibility, stressing the importance of self-control, Stolen Focus takes a step back and examines the ecosystem that created the problem. . . . Hari's writing is incredibly readable."-San Francisco Chronicle

"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 v...

Readers Top Reviews

Chris MacSuzieSVBA R
Hari starts with what amounts to a condensed reworking of Cal Newport's "Digital Minimalism" which he blends with the thoughts of The Centre For Humane Technology. So far, so good (if a little over-familiar to anyone already genned-up on the subject.) He also takes time to shine a critical spotlight on the self-serving nonsense spouted by Nir Eyal. And then,... Well, he rather loses his way. Instead of providing, say, trenchant criticisms of the management of Google, Facebook, et al, or any practical advice on fending off surveillance capitalism's worst excesses, Hari gets distracted by wishful thinking on minimum wages and so forth. The end result is rather disappointing. Neither fish nor fowl. If you're concerned by how technology may be tinkering with our ability to focus, skip "Stolen Focus". Instead, I recommend the following: "Digital Minimalism" by Cal Newport. Excellent starting place, with plenty of practical advice and a decent, clear explanation of the problems tech has brought to our lives "The Shallows" by Nicholas Carr is a fine (if slightly dry) examination of how the Internet has changed the way we think and read. Lastly, the erudite and humane Jaron Lanier has written a wonderful pithy book, the title of which speaks for itself. :) "Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now"
Enjoyed reading this book, thanks to a blurb on the Next Big Idea club. It has great suggestions on how to retrain our focus and attention. There is room to adapt so many things into our lives- stuff that we have forgotten in the fog around our attention. I hope I can stick with my resolutions.
There are specific trends & decisions that have & are worsening our (and by our, I mean close to everybody) ability to focus our attention. People who believe in conspiracy theories are not stupid they have lost the ability to focus. Think about that.
Kevin L. Nenstiel
It’s not just you: people worldwide are reporting increased difficulty paying attention to deep ideas and ordinary tasks. Though it’s impossible to precisely quantify, copious circumstantial evidence reports that populations don’t stick with ideas as long as we once did, and while customers are buying more books than ever, they’re finishing far, far fewer. How did this happen to so many people simultaneously? Just as important, how can we reverse it? Anglo-Swiss journalist Johann Hari mixes autobiography with investigative reportage to uncover answers to these questions. He noticed his beloved nephew, once an energetic child, had become entranced by his handheld technology, spending literally hours without looking up from his phone. But sure as every doctor is a patient, Hari realized he could see, in his nephew, his own sins; his own life was increasingly circumscribed by his phone. Like many critics, Hari assumed our handheld technology caused the problem. After all, we started staring at phones, and experienced shortened attention spans, right? Not so, he quickly discovers. First, though the data isn’t ironclad, there’s reason to believe human attention spans have been getting shorter since the Victorian age, and the reasons are reasonably comparable to what’s happening around us today. Not that mobile technology, and the companies that make it, are innocent. Using insider testimony and industry documents, he provides persuasive evidence that Silicon Valley cultivates a business model based on keeping users hooked. They know their devices produce cocaine-like dopamine jolts, and they know some modest tweaks could fix that without hurting their balance sheets. But nobody can afford to be the first to make the responsible choice. So smartphone makers and social media enterprises are disincentivized to act responsibly. That’s hardly a shocker, though Hari feigns astonishment. Hari also finds several less obvious contributors to modern users’ abbreviated attention spans. Heightened levels of economic stress trigger a human tendency to look for threats, like paleolithic hunters on the bushveldt. Lousy processed food leaves our brains undernourished, and environmental pollutants disrupt the functions of our endocrine system. Taken together, Hari finds a socioeconomic structure that wasn’t necessarily designed to disrupt human attention spans, but definitely has that effect. What’s more, the wealthy and well-connected already know these effects exist. To the extent that they’re able, the people who profit from this disruptive economy, don’t participate in it. The rich eat organic unprocessed foods, send their kids to Waldorf schools, and frequently don’t use the technologies they manufacture. Healthy mental states aren’t difficult to define. Robust psychology and neuroscience have demonstrated what well-roun...
James BlakeyBuyerLou
I bought this book on the strength of the excerpt in The Guardian. And I was engaged until 1/2 to 2/3rds of the way through when the book veered off into Climate Change and the Fight for Fifteen. I felt that the author was trying to shoehorn in other issues that he cared about. What was missing was any investigation how the gaming and gambling companies also hack our attention. That would have been a better use space. Also it's tiresome but expected now that the author will have to showcase his "progressive" bonafides: apologizing for "mansplaining", all examples of online radicalization are from the right, every conspiracy theory espoused is from the right, etc.

Short Excerpt Teaser

Chapter One

Cause One: The Increase in Speed, Switching, and Filtering

I don't understand what you're asking for," the man in Target in Boston kept saying to me. "These are the cheapest phones we got. They have super-slow internet. That's what you want, right?" No, I said. I want a phone that can't access the internet at all. He studied the back of the box, looking confused. "This would be really slow. You could probably get your email but you wouldn't-" Email is still the internet, I said. I am going away for three months, specifically so I can be totally offline.

My friend Imtiaz had already given me his old, broken laptop, one that had lost the ability to get online years before. It looked like it came from the set of the original Star Trek, a remnant from some aborted vision of the future. I was going to use it, I had resolved, to finally write the novel I had been planning for years. Now what I needed was a phone where I could be called in emergencies by the six people I was going to give the number to. I needed it to have no internet option of any kind, so that if I woke up at 3 a.m. and my resolve cracked and I tried to get online, I wouldn't be able to do it, no matter how hard I tried.

When I explained to people what I was planning, I would get one of three responses. The first was just like that of this man in Target: they couldn't seem to process what I was saying. They thought I was saying that I was going to cut back on my internet use. The idea of going offline completely seemed to them so bizarre that I had to explain it again and again. "So you want a phone that can't go online at all?" he said. "Why would you want that?"

The second response-which this man offered next-was a kind of low-level panic on my behalf. "What will you do in an emergency?" he asked. "It doesn't seem right." I asked-what emergency will require me to get online? What's going to happen? I'm not the president of the United States-I don't have to issue orders if Russia invades Ukraine. "Anything," he said. "Anything could happen." I kept explaining to the people my age-I was thirty-nine at the time-that we had spent half our lives without phones, so it shouldn't be so hard to picture returning to the way we had lived for so long. Nobody seemed to find this persuasive.

And the third response was envy. People began to fantasize about what they would do with all the time they spent on their phones if it was all suddenly freed up. They started by listing the number of hours that Apple's Screen Time option told them they spent on their phones every day. For the average American, it's three hours and fifteen minutes. We touch our phones 2,617 times every twenty-four hours. Sometimes they would wistfully mention something they loved and had abandoned-playing the piano, say-and stare off into the distance.

Target had nothing for me. Ironically, I had to go online to order what seemed to be the last remaining cellphone in the United States that can't access the web. It's called the Jitterbug. It's designed for extremely old people, and it doubles as a medical emergency device. I opened the box and smiled at its giant buttons and told myself that there's an added bonus: if I fall over, it will automatically connect me to the nearest hospital.

I laid out on the hotel bed everything I was taking with me. I had gone through all the routine things I normally use my iPhone for, and bought objects to replace each one. So for the first time since I was a teenager, I bought a watch. I got an alarm clock. I dug out my old iPod and loaded it with audiobooks and podcasts, and I ran my finger along its screen, thinking about how futuristic this gadget seemed to me when I bought it twelve years ago; now it looked like something that Noah might have carried onto the Ark. I had Imtiaz's broken laptop-now rendered, effectively, into a 1990s-style word processor-and next to it I had a pile of classic novels I had been meaning to read for decades, with War and Peace at the top.

I took an Uber so I could hand over my iPhone and my MacBook to a friend who lived in Boston. I hesitated before putting them on the table in her house. Quickly, I pushed a button on my phone to summon a car to take me to the ferry terminal, and then I switched it off and walked away from it fast, like it might come running after me. I felt a twinge of panic. I'm not ready for this, I thought. Then somewhere, from the back of my mind, I remembered something the Spanish writer José Ortega y Gasset said: "We cannot put off living until we are ready . . . Life is fired at us point-blank." If you don't do this ...