The other thing is that it gives us an optimistic vision of the future. Naomi Klein argues that we were suddenly pushed to where we would be in 15 years in terms of technology. It has shown us a vision of the future that many of us hate. In the past two years, I have not once heard the phrase “Hooray, another Zoom call!” So it gives us a vision of the future we are headed towards which we can now consciously choose to give up and move towards a much better future.
On that topic: There are those, like writer and technology expert Nir Eyal, who say we need to take responsibility for our own discipline during device time, instead of blaming technology for our distraction. You call this “ruthless optimism,” which you define as a solution that sounds good, but won’t work.
JH: When I started researching the book, I had two stories about what happened to me. I thought: “One, you lack willpower. And two is someone who invented the smartphone.” I decided to exert my will, and I went without a smartphone for three months. I spent three months in Provincetown, Mass., completely offline, in a radical act of will. There were a lot of ups and downs, but I was stunned by my attention returning. I can read books eight hours a day. At the end of my time there, I thought, “I’ll never go back to the way I used to live.” The joy of concentration is much greater than the rewards of likes and retweets.
Then I got my phone back, and within a few months I was back to 80% like it was before. I only really understood why when I interviewed James Williamswho I would argue is the leading philosopher of attention in the world today, and he said to me, “It’s like you think the solution to air pollution is for you to personally wear a mask. poison room.”
I am not against gas masks. The respirator is great. But they are not the solution to air pollution.
If giving up technology for a long time isn’t the answer, what are some techniques you’ve found that work on a personal level?
JH: I sleep more, at least eight hours. I have a time-locked case where I put my phone on for four hours a day as I write. And I wouldn’t sit and watch a movie with my boyfriend unless we both locked our phones.
There are those who argue that worrying about Big Tech’s influence on our attention is just the latest moral panic, like the outrage that has greeted the print press. How did you react when you heard that argument?
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/16/well/mind/attention-span-focus-johann-hari.html Johann Hari on How to regain your focus