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Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again (2022) [ebook]

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Our ability to pay attention is collapsing. From the New York Times bestselling author of Chasing the Scream and Lost Connections comes a groundbreaking examination of why this is happening—and how to get our attention back.

“The book the world needs in order to win the war on distraction.”—Adam Grant, author of Think Again

“Read this book to save your mind.”—Susan Cain, author of Quiet

In the United States, teenagers can focus on one task for only sixty-five seconds at a time, and office workers average only three minutes. Like so many of us, Johann Hari was finding that constantly switching from device to device and tab to tab was a diminishing and depressing way to live. He tried all sorts of self-help solutions—even abandoning his phone for three months—but nothing seemed to work. So Hari went on an epic journey across the world to interview the leading experts on human attention—and he discovered that everything we think we know about this crisis is wrong.

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 to corporations determined to raid our attention for profit. 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, he introduces readers to Silicon Valley dissidents who learned to hack human attention, and 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.


Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention (or read books anymore):

So I have been really getting into this book and found this one part particularly insightful, and a small example of what is in this book.


You probably haven’t heard of Aza Raskin, but he has directly intervened in your life. He will, in fact, probably affect how you spend your time today. Aza grew up in the most elite sliver of Silicon Valley, at the height of its confidence that it was making the world better. His dad was Jef Raskin, the man who invented the Apple Macintosh for Steve Jobs, and he built it around one core principle: that the user’s attention is sacred. The job of technology, Jef believed, was to lift people up and make it possible to achieve their higher goals. He taught his son: “What is technology for? Why do we even make technology? We make technology because it takes the parts of us that are most human and it extends them. That’s what a paintbrush is. That’s what a cello is. That’s what language is. These are technologies that extend some part of us. Technology is not about making us superhuman. It’s about making us extra-human.”

Aza became a precocious young coder, and he gave his first talk about user interfaces when he was ten years old. By the time he was in his early twenties, he was at the forefront of designing some of the first internet browsers, and he was the creative lead on Firefox. As part of this work, he designed something that distinctly changed how the web works. It’s called “infinite scroll.” Older readers will remember that it used to be that the internet was divided into pages, and when you got to the bottom of one page, you had to decide to click a button to get to the next page. It was an active choice. It gave you a moment to pause and ask: Do I want to carry on looking at this? Aza designed the code that means you don’t have to ask that question anymore. Imagine you open Facebook. It downloads a chunk of status updates for you to read through. You scroll down through it, flicking your finger—and when you get to the bottom, it will automatically load another chunk for you to flick through. When you get to the bottom of that, it will automatically load another chunk, and another, and another, forever. You can never exhaust it. It will scroll infinitely.

Aza was proud of the design. “At the outset, it looks like a really good invention,” he told me. He believed he was making life easier for everyone. He had been taught that increased speed and efficiency of access were always advances. His invention quickly spread all over the internet. Today, all social media and lots of other sites use a version of infinite scroll. But then Aza watched as the people around him changed. They seemed to be unable to pull themselves away from their devices, flicking through and through and through, thanks in part to the code he had designed. He found himself infinitely scrolling through what he often realized afterward was crap, and he wondered if he was making good use of his life.

One day, when he was thirty-two, Aza sat down and did a calculation. At a conservative estimate, infinite scroll makes you spend 50 percent more of your time on sites like Twitter. (For many people, Aza believes, it’s vastly more.) Sticking with this low-ball percentage, Aza wanted to know what it meant, in practice, if billions of people were spending 50 percent more on a string of social-media sites. When he was done, he stared at the sums. Every day, as a direct result of his invention, the combined total of 200,000 more human lifetimes—every moment from birth to death—is now spent scrolling through a screen. These hours would otherwise have been spent on some other activity.

along with ads for weight loss, powdered seaweed, and boner pills. I think it'll be quite popular - even more than herpes.

I have never really gotten into using my smartphone as a computer. Mostly just small amounts of text messaging, Gmail and the actual phone. No apps, music or videos etc.

I do have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, but have more or less burned out and gotten bored of them and no longer spend more than 10 or so minutes scrolling through them. So I guess that is good. But alas, I do still notice that focus problem - so it appears to be a real thing for most people nowadays.