Friday, February 18, 2022

Stolen Focus review

I was hoping this book would have useful tips on dealing with modern life that I might have missed. Sadly it seems he was upset about people spending time on their phones and decided to take an unplugged vacation. At the end of that, he tried to explain why he felt better on that vacation. Most would probably think no stress and getting plenty of rest would cover most of that but the author seems to think the answers mainly lay elsewhere. While I agree with some of his points like: 

  • People often spend more time posting about the time they are having that enjoying it 
  • Anger impairs your thinking so avoid people that upset you and be suspicious of people that try and keep you upset.
  • Flex time is more efficient than set work hours. (Note this contradicts his anti multitasking thoughts.)
  • Ingesting lead and other poisons are not good for you
  • Caged animals are stressed
  • ADHD is s symptom not a cause.
  • If everything is done for you then you will probably never learn to do anything for yourself

Note though for some of these, and others, his answer is not realistic in the real world. Like getting a good 9 hours sleep every night. That is just not doable for many. For example, if someone is working 2 jobs to get by telling them to reduce the hours they work is not useful. 

For the most part he seems to be grasping at straws to find a reason or reasons and of course he sees many differences from his "normal" life. This is NOT how you establish cause and effect even on a personal level. And talking to experts only to take what you want to hear corrupts the findings even more.

Let me hit some of the points that stuck out to me where he seems to be offbase.

First he goes after multitasking but fundamentally does not understand what multitasking is. Note a lot of people do not seem to either. He says started with multiple processors. It does not even have to do with multiple cores. It is switching to another task while waiting on the current one to proceed or just to share time in a SINGLE core and dates back to early mainframe days. His whole argument that there is cost to this, and there is, which is why this is not simple to do on even a single core computer much less a multi core, multi processor one. The system needs to sort how to weight cost of switching versus its benefits. Do it badly and the systems crawls even with a super fast core. Speed gain over doing serially is only achieved when the total switching time is less than waiting time. Note waiting time is NOT just waiting for user input. There are lots of subsystems like storage or display that might cause processing to pause. Similarly parts of your brain process different inputs. And something like scratching or petting the cat or walking can get reduced to something you basically do not have to think about doing. Which is why skilled programmers often keep typing while talking to you unless the conversation gets fairly complex. They are not ignoring you. They are getting both tasks done without maxing out their brain.

He is wrong in his example. Scratching your but while talking on the phone IS multitasking. His basic argument is like saying if you can only use one arm so you need to put the phone down to do it. Multitasking in people only works if you are not using the same resources or there is a nonsignificant switching load. For instance listening to a story while web surfing or responding to emails probably will not work, while listening to music or a podcast, or even a lot of TV will. Why? Because there is too much to keep in mind with a audio story. It builds a picture or even a world in your head. It is basically the same as taking a break in the middle. How much will it take to get you back into the flow? The others are much simpler and so easy to jump back into. On flip side listening to a story while driving also works because driving does not require that complex of a model. Note this is a generalization. There are of course people that can not walk and talk at the same time. 

He talks about how Instagram and others have used Skinner's work to program us like computers yet often says how we are not like machines.

He does not seem to get flow state. It is not hyperfocus. It is instead it is when things become second nature. Or as a programmer might say you make it a subroutine so you do not need to think about it too hard. He seems to think it is hyperfocus because loses track of time. Tuning out somethings is not the same as hyperfocus. For example daydreaming while someone is talking to you also fits this model and you would not call that hyperfocus.

Had to laugh at "waking after sleeping for nine hours I found I did not need coffee. What an alien concept."  He then goes on to talk about how he discovered people do better with enough sleep and most don't get it. He seems to think the main factor to why he slept better while basically being on vacation was less artificial light. That is unbelievably simplistic.

His whole look at social media I'm not sure was funny or sad. Granted some people are only posting to feel popular. He seems to think that is THE reason to post on social media. But trolls do just the opposite. Most posts I see are more about letting friends and family know what they are up to and or what they think about something. The later, to find people that think similar which is what I most often hear is considered the biggest issue with social media since it creates info bubbles around people.

He comments how inspiration often comes while doing one thing will thinking about another. This is one aspect of multitasking and flow. This is a well known trick to get past a block. Go do something else and your brain will churn on it in the background or when you come back your brain will have lost (forgot) some of the assumptions you had before. It is not increasing focus. It is pulling back to let other options and views in.

Another total miss. If Facebook did not do ads it would magically become ideal where they will not care if you use the site or not. And people would flock to to a site like that even if they had to pay. Thing is people tend to drop paid subscriptions for sites they are not using that much. Remember the main reason everyone is on Facebook is that everyone is on Facebook. There are sites like MeWe that are exactly like he describes. Yet almost no one uses them. Why? Because almost nothing gets posted there, because there is almost nothing to read there, because almost nothing gets posted there... And it is even mostly free too. Granted it is not as "polished" as Facebook given the smaller budget. I've had friends try and move there but they soon find the conversations dry up and they stop checking it. Though he thinks we should be on these sites less anyway so he might be OK with that. Clearly discouraging people from using Facebook is not the answer Facebook will get behind if they are getting all their income from subscriptions. Also basically outlawing ads on sites pretty much means every site on the internet is going to cost you to see. We are already seeing this with many sites as a response to ad blockers.

I could go on but ought to have the idea by now.

I suggest starting with the conclusion, he basically covers the 6 changes he made to his life and his answers to fixing society (like standard 4 day work week) in there. Then decide if you need the rest. Personally I doubt most will have the luxury to duplicate most of his ideas or his fixes get much traction.