We’ve Lost Focus

Category: Reading, What I’m reading

We know through research that teenagers can focus on one task for only sixty-five seconds at a time, and office workers average only three minutes. Personally, I have to lock away every electronic device at night so I don’t grab them in the morning before I even get out of bed. 

Here’s an excerpt that I’ve lightly edited from a book I recently read and highly recommend called Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention—and How to Think Deeply Again. I hope you find it as helpful as I have.

We think our inability to focus is a personal failure to exert enough willpower over our devices. The truth is even more disturbing: our focus has been stolen by powerful external forces that have left us uniquely vulnerable.

Stolen Focus author Johann Hari was deeply troubled when he realized he was constantly switching from device to device and tab to tab and experiencing the  diminishing and depressing effect on him. He unsuccessfully tried various solutions and even abandoned his phone for three months.

Hari went on an adventure to interview the world’s leading experts on human attention. He discovered that everything we think we know about this crisis is wrong.

Hari found that there are twelve deep causes of this crisis, from the decline of mind wandering to rising pollution, all of which have robbed some of our attention. In Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention—and How to Think Deeply Again, Hari introduces readers to Silicon Valley dissidents who learned to hack human attention and to veterinarians who diagnose dogs with ADHD.

He explores a favela in Rio de Janeiro where everyone lost their attention in a particularly surreal way and an office in New Zealand that discovered a remarkable technique to restore workers’ productivity.

Crucially, Hari learned how we can reclaim our focus—as individuals and as a society—if we are determined to fight for it. Stolen Focus transforms the debate about attention and finally show us how to get it back.

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