Ex Libris Kirkland

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Subtitle Why You Can't Pay Attention--and How to Think Deeply Again
First Written 2022
Genre Selfhelp
Origin US
Publisher Crown
ISBN-10 0593138538
ISBN-13 978-0593138533
My Copy library copy
First Read April 18, 2023

Stolen Focus

Reading for the Brand New Box book club. Saving my notes elsewhere until we discuss this as a group, I guess!

Noted on April 18, 2023

- intro.
Basically black mirror ‘what if phones but too much’
- fun to have the Blue Lagoon reference!
- 12 causes @ work that damage your attention
- systemic causes require systemic solutions, habit changes only can get you so far

MK: nice structure where he does the engaging digital detox story, gets you all excited to like, Be a Better Person and reject temptations, and then peels back the curtain to say ‘it’s not your fault, systemic forces are at work’!

Ch 1. Increase in speed, filtering, switching.
- precommitment, odysseus
- Q. On p.31: if acceleration is happening everywhere - do we want to be left behind? What do we miss? If I don’t adapt do I promise that I’ll be dysfunctional in the future?

Ch 2. Crippling of flow states
- skinner boxes, sure
- flow states, a ‘gusher of focus’ requires A. A goal, B. Meaning that matters to you, C. Challenge at the edge of your abilities.
Our time is fragmented and that fights against flow.
MK: bnb is already pretty conscious of this and I think we work pretty hard to protect and build flow states. Tech world in general is pretty cognizant of this idea.

Ch. 3. Rise of exhaustion
- ‘Local sleep’ - part of the brain falls asleep while the rest is still awake
- Avg college student is as sleep deprived as a new parent or active-duty military(!)
- cerebral spinal fluid ‘washes out’ metabolic waste during sleep??? Like garbage collection!
- recommends: radically reduce blue light before sleep, no screens 2 hrs before bed, no light at ALL in the bedroom (!)

Ch 4. Collapse of sustained reading
- the chapter in which Matt feels smug, likely
- ‘screen inferiority’ people remember more about stuff read in paper books vs screens
- equivalent to 2/3 of grade level reading comprehension (MK: GASP)
- twitter: life is fleeting and simple
- Facebook: life exists to display to others
- insta - what matters is how you look on the outside
- books - life is complicated, its worth thinking about other peoples feelings
(MK theory: good novels are empathy machines)
- next page “fiction is a kind of empathy gym” (!)
- or are empathetic people drawn to novels? Probably both. MK experience: n=1 but I have a sustained experience with this, from like explicitly feeling like Im not very empathetic to feeling like I improved

Ch 5. Disruption of mind wandering
- attention = spotlight metaphor
- 3 thing that happen in mind-wandering: making sense of the world, making new connections, mental time travel
‘In situations of low stress and high safety, mind wandering will be a pleasure; In situations of high stress and low safety, mind wandering will be torture’ (MK: uh, I think this has more to do with bigger psychological issues. Like, not just physical safety but / no stress but also: acceptance of yourself and your place in the world? Willingness to confront the existential void, etc?)

Ch. 6 Rise of Tech to track and manipulate
- nothing new here, tech is explicitly trying to steal your attention and focus. sure.

Ch. 7, Ibid, part two
- BUT great metaphor on the voodoo doll. Your advertising profile = voodoo doll. AT first it doesn’t look much like you, but as you feed it more data, the more it DOES. And the more it looks like you, the more powerful and effective it is at controlling / influencing your actions.
MK: seriously, a killer metaphor, this will stick
“I thought, the phone arrived and it ravaged me. But it’s not the phone, it’s the apps on the phone”

Six ways tech harms attention:
1. Train you to crave reward, skinner styles
2. “ “ switch tasks frequently
3. Personalized fracking, exactly what distracts YOU
4. Negativity bias, built to make you angry
5. Surround you with other peoples negativity
6. ‘Set society on fire’, ie, also tends toward radicalization

Ch. 8. Cause 7, Cruel Optimism
Nir Eyal, same guy wrote ‘Hooked’ and ‘Indestructible’ -> manual on how to create tech products that drive us crazy, and a self-help book on individual action. But when the ‘small gentle’ way to push back fails, we blame individuals instead of systemic causes or big tech / corporations.

Ch. 9. Glimpses at deeper Solution
- uh, he’s just saying we should fight back? Organize? Make it a civil rights campaign to ban surveillance capitalism?

Ch 10. Cause 8, surge in stress and how it is triggering vigilance
- when people are stressed that damages attention
- ACES score, we talk about this at CPPR all the time

Ch 11. Places that reverse the surge
- companies do 4 day workweek, sure
- Matt’s a skeptic on this actually. this HAS to be relative, right? Like, yeah you can cut some unproductive fat at first and people can hustle to get more done in 4 days. That’s great. But like, I’ll bet that fat gets back in, and productivity drops. Or like, what if you cut the fat and just got 20% MORE done in 5 days/week; wouldn’t that be good? But then again I’m just not bothered by a 40hr workweek, I’ve got 168 hours in a week and spending 40 on work doesn’t seem like a bad deal to me. If you’ve got a job where you can trade 40 hrs of dignified work in exchange for supporting the rest of your life on earth (and heck, maybe support others too), seems like a fair shake to me. Actually a pretty good deal!

Ch 12. Cause ten. Bad food & Pollution
Bad food is bad for focus. OK. Pollution is full of bad stuff for us and cognitive function. Sure.

Ch. 13. Cause 11. ADHD / Stimulants.
Lots more kids get ADHD meds and take stimulants. This seems like the last few chapters are really padding out the thesis into a book. But ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I get a real ‘he’s not wrong’ sense here.
- but on the other hand, Adderal / et al are focus drugs, wouldn’t they help focus? IDK.
- lightbulb moment for Matt was the assertion that twin studies in psych are often flawed because you can’t really distinguish between genetics and environment even compared to fraternal twins. Identical twins get treated more similarly than fraternal, and identify with each other more strongly than fraternals do. So there’s gotta be some psychological bleedover that doesn’t boil down to just ’same genes = same results’! I’d never thought of that and it seems very correct on paper.

Ch. 14. Cause 12, Confinement of Children, Physically and Psychologically.
- Lenore Skenazy, free range kids stuff.
- helicopter / tiger parenting robs kids of the chance to form intrinsic motivations
- Sudbury valley school, radical unschool situation.

3 types of focus:
- spotlight: on immediate action
- starlight: long-term goals. What you navigate by.
- daylight: attention to what’s around you, content that helps set goals.

Noted on July 21, 2023

Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
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