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Book Review: STOLEN FOCUS
Losing focus and what to do about it.
Author Johann Hari offers a thoughtful, accessible, and seemingly well-researched treatise on the causes, effects, and ameliorations of the deficits of attention in the modern world.
Much has been made recently of the purposeful design of social media to utilize our natural weaknesses to compel users to continuously engage with our devices. Here, Hari interweaves the results of his interviews and research with his own personal story to attempt to recapture a sense of ownership of his life that had been lost to manipulation by programmers and big tech.
This quote from Hari sums up nicely why social media platforms that peddle in sound bites are making public discourse dumber. “The world is complex and requires heavy focus to be understood; it needs to be thought about and comprehended slowly; and most important truths will be unpopular when they are first articulated.” But the algorithms that run behind the scenes of our devices and apps are designed to keep us engaged and enraged in order to keep us looking at our screens because that is how tech companies make so much their money.
Stolen Focus also explores the effects of a diet filled with processed foods made with high fat and sugar content and insufficient nutritional value along with the modern trend to treat people with drugs when experiencing ADHD. The message here is that in order to regain our sense of self and the ability to focus, we can spend more time adjusting our modern world to fit a more humane approach; one that is more tailored to humans than to what is good for big tech and algorithms.
Hari knows how to help the reader settle into his narrative. The prose is immediately rich and comforting, and he only occasionally brings his own social agenda to the work. The world coping with the manipulation of the power of the corporate elite is enough of a motivator for people looking to free themselves of the chains of it all. But Hari wants to up the ante (and the drama) to point out that without the ability to focus en masse on the ‘big’ issues facing the world today, then humanity cannot successfully tackle such issues as climate change. He may be right, but the most important meaning to be found in Stolen Focus is the prescription for claiming the moments of your life as your own and not that of the algorithms we encounter every day.