Stolen Focus by Johann Hari [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive book summary of the book Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention- and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access and a downloadable/printable version of the summary.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

Claim your attention. Increase the chances of winning the ongoing battle against the forces trying to steal your focus. Stolen Focus by Johann Hari discussed a wide variety of problems that are leading to an attention-pathogenic culture – a place where deep focus is nearly impossible to achieve. The research by Johann Hari leads to the conclusion that our distracted minds aren’t at all personal failings solvable by individuals. Rather, societal problems – manipulative tech, high stress, rising pollution – that need to be fixed on a larger scale.

The Core Idea:

The world is seemingly speeding up – we talk faster, we walk faster, we try to hack reading by reading faster. In our effort to keep up with all that’s happening, we try to multitask. But our efforts are seldom successful. Instead of doing a lot of things right. We do a lot of things wrong. Our brains become paralyzed by this constant flow of data. We are soaked in information, and this never-ending switch from one thing to another is worsening our stay on the planet.

Reason To Read:

Snap back from the mindless scrolling and begin your journey towards reclaiming your freedom – by reclaiming your attention. Johann Hari warns that if we don’t collectively – as a society – take steps toward making our lives less busy. We’ll end up designing the dystopian future we currently think won’t happen – living virtual lives, inside a computer, and being manipulated by the upper class.


  • The surge of incoming information is the main factor fragmenting our attention span and making it hard for us to focus on a single topic.
  • Our inability to prevent distracting apps from corrupting our focus shouldn’t be a personal battle. We should (all) demand for big tech to change.
  • Only when enough people realize that our ability to pay attention is collapsing – and that this is a big problem. We can unite and do something about it.

8 Key Lessons from Stolen Focus:

Lesson #1: How Our Attention Degenerated

The journey to understand our disturbed attention span begins with the personal story of Adam – the author’s godson.

Adam was a perfectly normal kid. And like every kid. He had his own obsessions. In his case, this was Elvis Presley. He sang songs and collected everything he could with the name Elvis on it.

But as he grew older. Things radically changed. After dropping out of school. He spent most of his waking hours at home altering between different screens and apps.

It seemed, the outside world was no longer part of his agenda. Elvis – or anything else in particular – wasn’t capable of holding his attention. A specific topic was only able to keep him at bay for a moment or two. After a few minutes, he was back to abruptly searching for something new to consume online.

Hoping that he can withdraw him from the virtual realm of fakeness. Johann offered to Adam to go together to Graceland – the home of Elvis Presley. The only thing Adam had to do was to switch off his phone. To return to reality. To start living again. Adam hesitantly agreed, and off they were – to Memphis.

But the trip was not what Johann Hari expected. Instead of reconnecting with his godson. He was constantly trying to bring him to the current moment. Adam was either not interested in what was in front of him. Or hiding somewhere behind an Elvis portrait to flick through Snapchat.

Adam’s story is not simply the personal story of a man unable to appreciate what is before his eyes. This is our current reality.

It’s digital cancer. In the constant chase to experience pleasure all the time. We always find ourselves wishing for another minute of scrolling session. The grips of the digital world are now permanently nested in our organism. Feeling itchy. We spent our time twitching our phones, so we can feel less lonely, and less like a nobody. But the more we do it. The lonelier we become. And not only that, but our inability to concentrate on a given subject only makes us less adequate to enjoy the life that happens around us.

The collapsing ability to pay attention, however, is not a personal problem – the author argues. It’s based on a collection of things. A portfolio of powerful forces that pour acid on our attention daily trying – and succeeding – to withdraw more data, and money out of us.

“I found strong evidence that our collapsing ability to pay attention is not primarily a personal failing on my part, or your part, or your kid’s part. This is being done to us all. It is being done by very powerful forces. Those forces include Big Tech, but they also go way beyond them. This is a systemic problem.” Johann Hari

Lesson #2: We Are Drinking from a Fire Hose

How do you slow down in a world that is speeding up?

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