Thinking Out Loud

June 22, 2022

Understanding Our Diminishing Attention Span

A mini-review of Stolen Focus by Johann Hari

It wasn’t even my copy of the book. And my intention was to just read the first few chapters. But I was hooked. In a world where people have trouble concentrating, the author certainly had my attention.

For regular readers here, this isn’t my usual type of review, which normally concerns books in national release by Christian publishers. Nobody received a review copy, and I don’t have to write this at all. But I feel compelled to recommend this title to anyone who interacts with technology to any degree — hint: you’re reading this on my blog — or anyone who has children, or anyone who simply breathes the air on planet Earth.

Why can’t we pay attention? Why does our mind seem to wander more than it once did? Why does the world suddenly seem filled with a million distractions? I haven’t done a whole lot of reading this on this topic, but my suspicion is that Stolen Focus has got to be one of the more comprehensive books on the subject.

Not content to do phone interviews, Johann Hari spends as much as half the year traveling the world doing research, spending time with the top experts in various branches of education, psychology, the environment, and many other disciplines. (Audio of those interviews is available on a related website.)

There are so many things we could do to re-order our lifestyle to mitigate against where technology has taken us, but ultimately, at the end of the book, he names three. (Sorry, no spoilers.) And no, the problem isn’t Facebook; at least the problem isn’t just Facebook; but when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is, the author does just that, shutting himself off entirely from the internet for three months. The experience changes him dramatically.

That ‘field trip’ also makes the book so much more engaging, as it’s as much about the author’s personal journey with this subject as it is a thoroughly-researched piece of journalism.

Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari is available in North America in 344-page hardcover from Crown Publishing.

For regular readers here, I suspect there might be some overlap between this book and a Christian title I really wanted to review but simply couldn’t arrange: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer. Other recommended Christian books along these lines include The Truth About Us by Brant Hansen, and Your Future Self Will Thank You by Drew Dyck.

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