Jan 11, 2024

Book Review: Stolen Focus by Johann Hari


First book of 2024, is a gripping, eye-opening read in many aspects. Though I have read some of the principles and factors in other books like Digital Minimalism, Deep Work, Indistractable, and Why We Sleep, Johann Hari's Stolen Focus is an informative compilation of 12 different factors that have stolen our focus and attention.

What I liked about the writing is that the author doesn't talk from the perspective of giving advice. His experiences on his relationship with devices, steps taken towards digital detox, and various factors that he attributes to the deterioration of his focus make the reader feel easily connected with the author. Anecdotal and relatable, that's how the book begins in the first few chapters.

The author then slowly unravels the factors one by one, with his personal life experiences, interviews with experts, and related examples. Depending on the factor(s) that impact your attention the most, you will be able to relate to certain chapters more than the others. Frequent switching of tasks, multitasking, lack of sleep, diet, pollution, and stress all have a direct impact on our ability to pay attention.

The chapter on cruel optimism was an eye-opener for me, as I hadn't thought about this perspective. For concerns related to our diet, mental health, and attention, we get fixated on the changes we should take up at an individual level. The author argues that changes taken solely at an individual level aren't sustainable enough and that we should push for changes at the societal/collective/systemic level.

The two chapters on how technology products track and manipulate us are quite important for all tech users. For those who aren't part of the industry, these revelations might seem shocking. Attention economy thrives when people are hooked onto their devices, which contributes to an increase in the core North Star metric of "user engagement".

The author also briefly touches upon attention issues in kids and the role of the environment (which was the primary focus in the book "Scattered Minds").

We have not just lost the ability to focus on a particular task, we have also lost our ability to let our minds wander freely. Given a minute of boredom, we seek refuge in our devices - be it waiting in a queue, waiting in a restaurant, waiting for a meeting, etc.

A must-read book for anyone who is struggling to stay focused on activities that take up time and effort like reading a book :-) 

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