Stolen Focus by Johann Hari (Review)

Strangely enough, I had a hard time focusing on Stolen Focus. I skimmed through the first five chapters of this 14 chapter book. I confess that I focused on chapter topics that interested me and on information that basically reinforced my current views on attention and concentration. Regrettably over the years, my ability to sit still for 60 or 90 minutes and read a book has greatly diminished. To a very large extent, I blame it on the distraction of social media and the Internet.

Hari’s book basically confirmed what I already know – – it is very hard to be focused and to apply attention for any great period of time. Everyone has certain addictions – – for me, its carbohydrates, salt etc. I am easily distracted. As I write this, I hear a TV in my living room, I am mentally composing a checklist of things that I need to do tomorrow and I am thinking about getting ready for a trip next week.

From this book, I learned why I and everyone else become distracted. What I did not necessarily find out was how to eliminate distractions and improve my concentration.

Shown below are my notes from the book:

Teams took ordinary people and got them to read much faster than they ordinarily would; with training, and with practice, it sort of works. They can run their eyes over the words quickly and retain something of what they are saying. But if you do then test them on what they read, you’ll discover that the faster you make them go, the less they will understand. More speed means less comprehension.

Scientists then studied professional speed readers – – and they discovered that even though they are obviously better at it than the rest of us, the same thing happens. This show there’s just a maximum limit for how quickly humans can absorb information, and trying to bust through that barrier simply busts your brain’s abilities to understand it instead.

The scientists investigating this also discovered that if you make people read quickly, they are much less likely to grapple with complex or challenging material. They start to prefer simplistic statements.

Scientists discovered… When people think they are doing several things at once, they are actually – – “juggling.” They are switching back-and-forth. They don’t notice the switching because their brain sort papers it over, to give a seamless experience of consciousness, but what they’re actually doing is switching and reconfiguring their brain moment to moment, task to task and that comes with a cost.

The more he studied flow states, the more Mihaly noticed something else crucial about them. They are extraordinarily fragile and easily disrupted.

When you are approaching death, I thought, you won’t think about your reinforcements – – the likes and retweets – – you’ll think about your moments of flow.

We all have a choice now between two profound forces – – fragmentation, or flow. Fragmentation makes you smaller, shallower, angrier. Flow makes you bigger, deeper, calmer. Fragmentation shrinks us. Flow expands us.

The proportion of Americans to read books for pleasure is now at its lowest level ever recorded. The American Time Use Survey – – which studies a representative sample of 26,000 Americans found that between 2004 and 2017 the proportion of men reading for pleasure had fallen by 40%, while for women, it was down by 29%.

Gallup found that the proportion of Americans who never read a book in any given year tripled between 1978 and 2014. Some 57% of Americans do not even read a single book in a typical year.

… the collapse in reading books is in someways a symptom of our atrophying attention, and in someways a cause of it. It’s a spiral – – as we begin to move from books to screens, we start to lose some of the capacity for the deeper readings that come from books, and that, and turn makes us less likely to read books.