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Overall I'd say this is a very good book, but too often the author lets his political ideology get in the way.
When discussing negative aspects of internet chat / Facebook groups, his examples thereof is the alleged rise of white nationalism. White nationalists haven't have killed as many people in the US in the last decade as get shot in Chicago on a pedestrian week.
It's a considerable yet consistent failure of progressives. They focus their attentions on make believe problems whilst ignoring real ones. Imaginary white nationalists are a growing concern yet liberals rioting, mass looting, burning down city blocks doesn't even rate a mention.
This is legitimately because they don't see that as being bad. Not even close to bad. These criminal activities are so mundane to progressives it's akin to watching someone get on a bus. It's mundane, or not even worthy of noticing (let alone noting), as those people wreaking that havoc, destroying those buildings and businesses and beating up those pensioners are on my team, they're the "good guys"; so it's like they have an invisibility cloak on. Whereas the "other guys" simply raising objections to third trimester abortions or stating that males aren't women for example, are apparently fascists on the verge of dismantling democracy for merely voicing an opinion or objective truth.
Another example the author uses is about the possible negative aspects of standardised testing in US schools. It's prioritised rote learning over free play he says and he likely has a valid point.
Yet again however, the author cannot help himself. How so? He pins this on George Bush's No Child Left Behind program.
I'm not defending Bush or the program, I know nothing of the latter and hold no great affection for the former. I'm sure it's a horrible end result wrapped up with good intention. But surely you're either wilfully ignorant or have deployed the progressive invisibility cloak yet again here if you believe schools are influenced by a long disposed conservative.
Schools, school teachers, school administrations, school curriculum, school boards and school unions are overwhelmingly liberal enclaves. Top to bottom, the entire schooling system is lousy with liberals. Well over 80% of those bodies are occupied by progressive liberals. Yet the example he plucks from his pocket for the woes of school education structure and how this damages children's development manages to lay the blame with a conservative.
In the book he makes a very strong argument for allowing and encouraging children to engage in unsupervised free-play. In it he tells of parents who agree unsupervised free-play sounds great, that they did it themselves as children and have the most fondest memories of it. Yet when challenged if they'll allow their children to do what they themselves did (and loved), they promptly do nothing of the sort.
His assertion that education problems are based on conservatives that have essentially zero say in education in the US makes those parent's decision making prowess seem Einsteinian in comparison.
Look at the school Covid lunacy in progressive hotbed states in the US. Kids masked eight hours a day, behind plastic screens, sitting distanced from each other out in the freezing cold during winter. Meanwhile in the red states, which are apparently on the precipice owing to Facebook not censoring their chats, children are engaging in exactly the activities he's advocating for in his book. They're outside, playing sport, living normal lives and not dying of Covid.
In the scheme of his book, these gripes I have with his ideological blindness are not large as a percentage of the content. But it is consistent enough and annoying enough in it's hypocrisy to detract from an otherwise very good book.
Hari is not the only author to notice that we are increasingly scattered, distracted and stressed. But in this essential book, he has provided what is probably the best explanation of what has gone wrong and why. There is more than one cause – it’s not just about social media, though that is a big amplifier of the trend. And it certainly isn’t about a lack of individual willpower. There are many intertwining factors, most of them deeply ingrained in our societies.
These deep-seated social forces and powerful tech monopolies might seem overwhelming and impossible to change, but one thing I liked about this book is the mix of pragmatism, honesty and hope. We CAN change society to preserve our focus and attention better, just as women fought for and won the vote and lesbians and gay men fought for and won legalization, anti-discrimination protections and, now, equal recognition of same-sex relationships.
Acutely observed and masterfully interwoven in its treatment of the many causes and consequences of stolen focus, this book is essential, urgent reading for everyone.
A good synthesis of information that’s presented in sub easy to read style. If you’ve read Chasing The Scream you’ll be familiar with the style and with the somewhat creative licence used to employ what ends up being quite balanced ideas. I do think that this could be required reading for parents of children, if only for the facts on sleep alone! If you like this social media aspect of this book I can recommend Make Time - very practical ideas on how to reduce the impact of digital without the reductive view of tech companies.
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"
...for all educators, those in the healing professions and social work. Proper first principles thinking that will help our human race get out from under the dumbing down and cultural manipulation of Big Tech. If you value the world of human potential and creativity, please read this and share it far and wide.
The first half of the book is centred around social media and phone use, which really is incredibly interesting and inspired me to use these apps a lot less than I was doing. Hooray!
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.
I launched into this book with gusto and enthusiasm. It opens well and I found some of the analysis mind blowing, much actually resonating with myself. However as it develops the lack of empirical commentary and his speculative discourse did start to frustrate. Nearly every expert he introduces is ‘the top in their field’ or had professorships at prestigious universities such as Stanford, which I found a tad ironic as it is these elitist universities which are the recruiting grounds for the very institutions he was criticising and blaming for our ‘stealing our focus’. Most of what he says makes sense, and will certainly resonate with most readers, but won’t come as a huge surprise, I honestly got bored with its predictability about 60% in. And it’s littered with irony, my favourite being his criticism of the time we spend on devices, and the engineers who design algorithms and pop ups that continuously steal our focus, the very same thing that popped up on my feed advertising his book, which in turn drove me to order it (online!) and download it onto my device to read! 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 …
I really enjoyed this book, I whipped through it in two days! It's a huge eye opener, and really helped me to understand some of the anger and confusion that's everywhere at the moment. It's also made me aware of my own habits and patterns when it comes to tech. A great book. I loved the last chapter on kids too. I've since given my children a little more freedom and they've loved it, and I'm really hoping it boosts their confidence.
This is a very well researched, excellent book that systematically deals with what can been regarded as the primary, detrimental aspects of modern day to day life and the impact that they have on our general well-being and ability function to our full potential. Johann Hari presents his research and findings in a readable, interesting style that is both very thought provoking and concerning. What is, perhaps, missing is the influence of radio, film and television (media in general) in the evolution of the whole process but this does not detract in any way from the message that is carried in this book. An important read.
First half is great. Very compelling, lots of practical advice and clearly outlines how we've got to where we are and what the path out of it might be, what we can do personally and as a wider society.
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 pinch of salt.