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Stolen Focus by Johann Hari (ep. 016)

This book is seemingly everywhere lately, or at least the author is. I listened to the audiobook version of “Stolen Focus” and found it holistic, compared to many other books on the same topic. Though there are some things in here—like treating Facebook as a public utility and all the regulatory trappings therein—downright absurd.

If there’s a fault here, it’s that Johann Hari’s method of dealing with lack of attention and focus was a cold-turkey detox that involved spending three months on Cape Cod. Maybe, just maybe, that’s a bit unrealistic for literally everyone in the country save the few hundred people who live there. It would have been more charming if he’d spent three months in Montana. I assume just about anyone can afford to live in Montana.

Some of my notes from listening to the book below. I talk more about it in depth in this episode at the links below. Also available to watch on YouTube and Vimeo.


  • You’ll like this book if you like something that’s informative, holistic, and makes you reflect on yourself. 
  • I appreciate he was trying to put some matters into practice and find a solution. Even if they were a bit privileged 
  • I like how he made an obvious effort to claim where some of the research is very convinced, conflicted, and maybe downright wrong for one reason or another.
  • There are parts of this book where he makes points that seem so flatly absurd I don’t even know why they’re in the book. Like how the Government should take over Facebook and run it like a public utility. 
  • Harvard research says mind wandering is a road to ruminations and bad feelings. People report mind wandering as their least happiest moments. You need focus on something else. 
  • Fiction builds empathy because you imagine yourself in someone’s head and practice understanding characters. Nonfiction doesn’t do that. But empathetic people could just be inclined to read function. But some research shows this partially true with kids who pick their own books developing better understanding of other people. 
  • A society that can’t focus is keen to gravitate toward authoritarian regimes with simplistic answers. I don’t think that’s entirely true — people could focus fine in the thirties. This is just exacerbating human nature. 
  • We have a social problem causing obesity. We have bad food and cities and it’s making us fat. (Body positivity?). And focus is also a social problem. 
  • There are many books on this topic, but this one is probably the most comprehensive at citing or sourcing material from many other long-time sources, like Tristan Harris, Cal Newport, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

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Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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