Stolen Ideas from Johann Hari – UnHerd

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What do you get if you Many times plagiarize the work of others, allegedly make quotes, and spend hours of your life edit Wikipedia pages of your rivals under an assumed name to make them look bad? Three massive book offers!

Johann Hari was a featured columnist at The independent, and has appeared in many other publications. After his various misdeeds come to light in 2011 he briefly passed away, then reinvented himself as a non-fiction writer and achieved great success TED Talk speaker.

Maybe there is nothing wrong with this transformation. He did, after all, apologize – after fashion – for plagiarism and malicious editing. Perhaps he is now a reformed character, worthy of rehabilitation. But as Jeremy Duns highlighted, Hari never provided a full account of everything he did wrong. His articles are still online without any flags from the newspapers that published them – and some of them do quite, well, surprising affirmations.

But what if his books were really that good? They must have done something to deserve such praise quotes and presentation texts various personalities including Hillary Clinton, Elton John, Russell Brand, George Monbiot, Glenn Greenwald and Tucker Carlson. With all this support and extensive marketing, his books were bestsellers.

Unfortunately, the books aren’t, in fact, that good. In his first, Chase the cry – in which he announced that “everything you know about drug addiction is wrong” – Hari hadn’t quite changed his ways. Even though he posted audio clips of his online interviews (a concession born of ethical lapses he had previously made), listening to the clips revealed that in so many cases he seemed to misinterpret what said his interviewees.

Neuroscientist Dean Burnett wrote a exasperated criticism from an extract from Hari’s second book, Lost connections, Who request “Is everything you know about depression wrong? Hari’s condemnatory attitude towards antidepressant drugs, for example, was not exactly nuanced, and he made some really bizarre (and strangely false) remarks – for example, “if your baby dies at 10 a.m. in the morning, your doctor can diagnose you with a mental illness at 10:01 am and start using drugs straight away ”.

Hari’s third book, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention, published yesterday, is hardly better. Which is frustrating, because the phenomenon Hari is grappling with – the feeling that with so many distractions in the modern internet-centric world it’s harder than ever to focus – is an experience many of us get. . Hari says he and almost everyone around him feels this and describes a months-long “digital detox”, during which he went to live in a small Cape Cod town without a smartphone or the internet.

But all this is anecdotal: does Hari really present proof that shortening attention span is a company-wide problem? There are a study on how topics appear and disappear on Twitter faster than a few years ago; some research on the number of distractions experienced by office workers; and a fishy sound but ready for headlines statistic on how often we “touch our smartphones” each day (2,617 times, apparently).

It wasn’t until more than halfway through the book, page 176, that Hari dropped what should be a bombshell: “We don’t have any long-term studies of changes in people’s ability to focus at work. over time. In other words, he quietly admits that there isn’t really any solid scientific evidence for the book’s main thesis. This is despite the truth of the attention problem seems to many of us. It must be said that on a closer look, the people I know who complain the most about not being able to concentrate are those who have nevertheless managed to write tons of columns, scientific articles, even books in recent years: Even Hari casually mentions he wrote a 92,000 word novel during his Cape Cod getaway, turning the story from an interesting self-help tale into a grotesque humblebrag.

Clearly, we need better data to understand how deep and pervasive this problem is. But let’s give Hari the benefit of the doubt and see how he tries to explain the phenomenon.

Most of the book is devoted to the causes of our collective attention problems. The first is, without originality, social media. Isn’t it very telling, Hari writes, that there isn’t a button on Facebook that you can press to help you meet your friends in person? Facebook is not going, he says, to “alert you to the physical proximity of someone you might want to see in the real world.” Hari explains that the entire social media business model excludes the encouragement of joys like looking your friends in the eye or hugging them, and instead is based on keeping yourself obsessed with your screen, scrolling without scrolling. end, never to leave the house.

Except Facebook Is it that have exactly the functionality that Hari says does not (and could not) exist. It’s called “Friends nearby”. It gives you a small map of where your friends are physically located at that time (if they have chosen to participate). It has been available since 2014. A two-second Google search would have enlightened Hari. Maybe he wrote this part of the book when he was isolated without the Internet.

The more you think about Hari’s objections to social media, the sillier they get: For years, Facebook has been one of the primary tools people use to organize in-person meetings and events. He can introduce us and introduce us to people who become our friends in real life. People do correct use social media because we are stupid drones, fooled by Big Tech. But Hari hardly mentions his benefits, and instead regurgitates (albeit thankfully, with quote) the catastrophic point of view advanced by many before him, including Tristan harris and Jaron Lanier.

Indeed, many of the other causes identified by Hari are rehashes from previous books on pop science and pop psychology: We don’t get enough sleep (Why we sleep); children no longer play outside (Free Range Kids and The pampering of the American spirit); we are not eating the right foods (a million pounds of diet). Of course, it is not a crime to write a book that does not provide any new information. But Hari’s irritating and panting style turns every fact he “finds out” into a startling revelation, every expert he talks to into the absolute best in the world. Hari’s research – a series of interviews for a pop psychology book – becomes an intense journey of personal discovery around the world. His mind is upset so often that it’s no wonder he finds it so hard to pay attention.

It’s not just that Hari thinks he has discovered some shocking new information. (Like Dean Burnett wrote of Lost connections, Hari “repeatedly presents well-known concepts and ideas … At the beginning of the book, he solemnly assures us that:” I studied social and political sciences at the University of Cambridge, where I was educated rigorous on how to read the studies published by these scientists. [and] how to assess the evidence they present ”.

What makes this laughable is not just that he touts his undergraduate degree as if it makes him an expert (a sizable proportion of the population has one as well). That’s it Focus stolen shows no talent for evaluating evidence. Sometimes there’s a small concession to a flaw in a study, or that scientists disagree on one point – but Hari doesn’t add any of the necessary uncertainties to his argument. After a brief mention of “the other side,” he’s usually just blundering, assuming his point is correct.

The book builds on Hari’s ultimate theory to explain why we all have these attention problems: it’s capitalism itself! Our blind focus on economic growth, writes Hari, puts us on a wild ride that ruins the functioning of our brains. We should abandon the idea of ​​growth, he argues, and aim for what economic anthropologist Jason Hickel calls a “stationary economy”.

It does not matter all the evidence for the benefits of economic growth in the reduction of extreme poverty and hellish diseases, especially in countries of the South. Never mind Hari’s claim that poverty can be another cause of attention problems. What’s more important as the world moves on is that he, Johann, sometimes has a hard time concentrating on his next book.

Hari’s call to kill capitalism isn’t the only embarrassing student-level policy in Focus stolen. He thinks we should have an activist movement called “Attention Rebellion” to do, well, he never says what. He thinks we should nationalize Facebook – which, to be fair, would likely solve the problem of its distraction, making it unnecessarily slow and terrible.

When he focuses on the person who is easily distracted, he gives realistic advice. But that includes things like: committing to getting the job done; use special software restrict access to social media; sleep well. This is all pretty obvious (though, in many cases, it’s easier said than done). With Hari, as it was said once about Freud, “what is new in his theories is not true, and what is true in his theories is not new”.

And yet, despite all of this, it seems the media establishment – particularly outside the UK, where his unethical past is less well known – just can’t get enough of him. His first book is apparently in the process of becoming a documentary series presented by Samuel L. Jackson. And from what he said in interviews, more non-fiction is to come – not to mention the Cape Cod novel. But he is a writer who has shown himself time and time again to be untrustworthy, unoriginal or ill-informed. If he’s right to say that our moments of concentration are becoming more and more precious, isn’t it time we started paying attention to someone – anyone – else?



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