I’m conflicted about this book. Stolen Focus is, as the title says, about all the ways in which the modern world destroys our attention spans, and what we can do to help ourselves. Each chapter is about a different cause of shortened attention, and potential solutions (some individual, some global). For most of the book, I was really enjoying it. Sure, a lot of the information was stuff I already knew, but with a lot more detail and nuance than I’d read before. Johann Hard covers social media, smartphones, ambient noise and light pollution, endless scrolling, sleep deprivation and the American diet, among other topics, and I found myself agreeing with most of what he said. It made me think a lot about when I felt like my ability to focus began to crumble. While it completely fell apart during COVID (at the same time that my stress level, my cell phone usage, and my social media usage shot up), it’s been not great for years. Was getting a smartphone the catalyst for this change? I can’t even remember at this point. But the book made me think about this enough to begin being more purposeful about the time I spend on my devices, and more thoughtful about only doing one thing at a time. I particularly liked the section about “flow,” which I was familiar with, but which drove home some points about how I really want to be spending my time–points that I’d been ignoring at least since March of 2020. It also really drives home the evils of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as corporations–things we all know, but that are elucidated really clearly in the book.
Where I started to get uncomfortable, though, was the chapter about ADHD. Hari presents this as a situation where you can draw a direct line between things like diet, devices, lifestyle changes, and ADHD. Is this accurate? I’m not convinced. Yes, a lot more kids are being diagnosed with ADHD than there used to be. But does that mean more kids have ADHD now, or are fewer kids going undiagnosed (or, possibly, are we overdiagnosing?)? And is ADHD solely an attention disorder? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I think it’s more complex than he presented it (I don’t recall him even mentioning executive functioning), and I would have been interested to hear from people who had ADHD.
I did love reading about the schools that follow an “unschooling” philosophy, and it made me think about what I learned in school that most stuck with me. Without question, it was always the topics I chose for myself, either for independent study, or as a project to be presented to my fellow classmates or things like that. It also made me think a lot about what my childhood was like, compared to childhood today. So I did think he made some good points in the section about childhood, I just thought some of his conclusions were questionable and may not be well-received by people with ADHD.