By Johann Hari, subtitled ‘Why You Can’t Pay Attention’, this book takes us on a personal three year voyage of discovery across the world, during which he talks to scientists and experts about our inability to concentrate or focus, and our shortened attention spans. The consequences of these society-wide phenomena are far-reaching and dire.
Engagingly he starts with a personal digital detox by taking himself offline in a beachside cabin to write. Gradually his research shows that the causes of the focus and attention problems are not simply personal failings on our part but rather a variety of pernicious social and environmental factors.
Hari identifies twelve causes of stolen focus, explained in an unadorned style, with personal anecdotes and experiences to enliven the processes of analysis and deduction. Obvious culprits like technology, chronic sleep deprivation, increased stress, ADHD, diet, childhood confinement, collapse of sustained reading, and more, are teased out.
In the conclusion (Attention Rebellion) Hari admits that although he worked towards personal and general solutions to the central problem, it’s not a self-help book. The situation is complex, and he still struggles with his own focus demons. But he optimistically promotes engagement in the fight to heal and restore our attention, and offers an appendix list of groups and organisations who have already begun the work.
The book has sold over a million copies since publishing less than a year ago, so you’ll be joining an almost select group of readers. Not great literature but original, engaging, thoughtful and well worthwhile.