Review: Stolen Focus — Johann Hari

Genre: Non-Fiction / Psychology
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group / Audible
ISBN: 9780593138519
Edition: Audiobook
Page count: 368
Release Date: 25-01-2022

Summary:

Why have we lost our ability to focus? What are the causes? And, most importantly, how do we get it back?

For Stolen Focus, internationally best-selling author Johann Hari went on a three-year journey to uncover the reasons why our teenagers now focus on one task for only 65 seconds, and why office workers on average manage only three minutes. He interviewed the leading experts in the world on attention and learned that everything we think about this subject is wrong.

We think our inability to focus is a personal failing – a flaw in each one of us. It is not. This has been done to all of us by powerful external forces. Our focus has been stolen. Johann discovered there are 12 deep cases of this crisis, all of which have robbed some of our attention. He shows us how in a thrilling journey that ranges from Silicon Valley dissidents, to a favela in Rio where attention vanished, to an office in New Zealand that found a remarkable way to restore our attention.

Crucially, he learned how – as individuals and as a society – we can get our focus back, if we are determined to fight for it.

Stolen Focus - Cover

Sometimes you start reading a book, or in my case, listening to one, and you’re just completely blown away by it. That’s what happened when I was listening to this book by Johann Hari. Stolen Focus is a very important book, because it focuses (pun intended) on a very large, and mostly unspoken of, disaster that is happening around us. We have collectively lost our ability to focus and as with most issues, the causes are multitude and complex. Johann Hari has attempted to shed some light on all of these causes and possible solutions.

The book is chopped up in 14 chapters, most of them handling a cause of our loss of focus. In total Hari identifies twelve different causes and talks about several solutions in the remaining chapters. To be fair, I thought that most of our focus related problems are directly linked to our usage of technology and mainly social media. Those were the ones I could name from the top of my head, but as the book went on I knew that there was so much more and what’s more, we are usually forced into blaming ourselves for not being able to focus. But the true problem is that a lot of the technology we use is designed to distract us in the first place. On top of that, there are even more causes, outside of our personal sphere of influence that affect our ability to focus. Things like air pollution and the food that we’re being sold. How we are raised is also a very important factor in all of this.

This book has really changed my view on our global problems and I agree with Johann Hari that if we can’t even focus for longer periods of time, how are we supposed to be able to overcome things like the current climate crisis? We need to find a way to reset our way of living in order to tackle all of these problems. As a person there is only so much you can do to regain your focus and most of them involve mindfulness practices and deliberately slowing down. Things like meditation and yoga are a good start. But also our social media consumption should be reconsidered. How much time do you typically spend on social media? I pretty much quit Facebook, only checking it maybe once a week on my laptop, but I have removed it from my smartphone. I am, however, still using Instagram and Reddit on it. I do find myself often scrolling mindlessly and kind of hating it, because it was one of my main reasons for cutting back on Facebook. The problem is that the technology behind it is designed to make you keep scrolling and Johann Hari says that we often blame ourselves for doing it, but if the design had been different, we’d be scrolling way less than we are now. The fact is that most social media don’t really offer us any substance and over usage of these platforms can even lead to depression.

So, was this book perfect? Well, content-wise I think this book hits all the right notes. But it has to be said that some of Johann Hari’s personal stories felt too anecdotal in nature in reference to the rest of the material and while I agreed with most of what I heard, I too kept a skeptical attitude towards it all. Since I listened to the audiobook I wasn’t able to see if the book contains a well documented appendix with references to source material that was used as research for this book. I think Johann Hari did a lot of research to write this book, but I’m not 100% convinced that all the research or facts in this book have been properly checked. Johann thankfully admits this later in the book, in the part about ADHD that researchers disagree a lot about this subject and that this makes it impossible to say anything about it with certainty. Adding this disclaimer helped a lot for me and I think Johann Hari did a splendid job at still trying to make a point, because even if the researchers don’t agree on the topic, they all did agree that it was a big problem.

Overall I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s definitely in my top 10 of non-fiction reads that I’ve had in the last five years and I think that more people should be aware of just how bad the situation really is when it comes to our focus. It’s not just a simple matter, it is an actual crisis and just like the climate change dilemma, they both need to be solved if we want to survive as a species. The urgency may not be as apparent as with climate change, but that’s probably because psychology is such a new field and a lot of research we do on the human brain is really hard to perform, because there are so many factors that come into play. This is definitely a must read!

Cover: 🌟🌟🌟
Writing style: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Content: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Originality: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Reading Voice: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Overall: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Happy Reading!

Jeffrey

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