Why You Can't Pay Attention—and How to Think Deeply Again
“Every human being has basic psychological needs,” says journalist Johann Hari. “And there is growing evidence that our culture isn’t meeting those psychological needs for many—perhaps most—people.” In his New York Times bestselling books, viral TED Talks, and visionary presentations, Hari is changing how we treat and what we believe about mental illness, addiction, even our own attention spans. With intelligent reporting and his signature, biting prose, his latest book Stolen Focus offers a fascinating exploration of the human mind, how it’s being manipulated, and what we can do about it.
“[Johann Hari] has cracked the code of why we’re in this crisis—and how to get out of it. We all need to hear this message.”— Arianna Huffington
Johann Hari’s groundbreaking books challenge some of our deepest assumptions. Lost Connections proposed a simple but radical premise: as rates of depression and anxiety around the world rise, what if it’s time to look at the causes of mental illness beyond our own brains? His New York Times bestseller Chasing the Scream similarly penetrated our beliefs surrounding addiction. After a four-year, 12-country, 30,000-mile journey into the war on drugs, Hari discovered the cure lies in solving systemic problems of isolation and poverty—making people feel like they belong, are valued and skilled, and can have an opportunity for a secure future. His TED Talk—now viewed over 18 million times—is a moving look at the ways in which we turn to addiction as a response to conditions of isolation and disengagement. As Hari points out: “The opposite of addiction is human connection.” Now, in his latest book Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention—and How to Think Deeply Again, Hari shows us why our inability to focus is not a just personal failure to exert enough willpower over our devices, but a competence that has been robbed from us by powerful forces. Much like his other books, Hari shows us that everything we’ve assumed so far about this crisis is wrong. Instead, he reveals there are twelve deep and often overlooked causes for our collapsing attention spans, from the decline of minder-wandering to rising pollution.
For his brilliant investigative work and vivid storytelling, Hari has drawn praise from prominent media and leaders around the world. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded Lost Connections as “a wonderful and incisive analysis of the depression and alienation that are haunting American society.” Of his new work, she writes: “In his unique voice, Johann Hari tackles the profound dangers facing humanity from information technology and rings the alarm bell for what all of us must do to protect ourselves, our children, and our democracies.” Susan Cain, the acclaimed author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, calls Hari an “indefatigable investigator of one of the world’s greatest problems: the systematic destruction of our attention.”
Hari has written for many of the world’s leading newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, The Nation, Slate, El Mundo, and The Sydney Morning Herald. He was a lead op-ed columnist for The Independent, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, for nine years, and was named ‘National Newspaper Journalist of the Year’ by Amnesty International twice. He was named ‘Environmental Commentator of the Year’ at the Editorial Intelligence awards, and ‘Gay Journalist of the Year’ at the Stonewall awards. He has also won the Martha Gellhorn Prize for political writing.'
“Johann Hari is a genius in our midst, a present-day visionary, the likes of which in today's world are rare to nonexistent. We were fortunate to nab him as a keynote speaker before demand for his speaking ability made him unaffordable to non-profits like us.”Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center
“Johann Hari is, by far, the most versatile, entertaining, and educational speaker that we have ever encountered. His clear, original thinking and disarmingly authentic presentation lend themselves to just about any topic that baffles the rest of us.”Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center
“Johann was nothing short of miraculous. He is like a God to us and he was every molecule the person, live, that we imagined him to be from his writings and interviews. We would have him back in a nanosecond!”Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center
For Johann Hari, drugs have always been personal. One of his earliest memories is of being unable to wake a relative. Since then, he’s watched loved ones struggle with addiction, all the while believing in the basic story about drugs and dependency echoed by our teachers and governments. That is, until he set out to find his own answers. Embarking upon a 30,000-mile, 12-country journey to really understand the war on drugs, Hari uncovered a much different narrative—that everything we’ve been told about addiction for the past 100 years is wrong.
As Hari learned, emerging science proves that addiction isn’t actually caused by drugs, but by conditions of social isolation and pain. Addiction isn’t the result of a moral failing or depravity, or the inevitable result of a chemical dependency, but a product of our social environments. This means we need to pursue a radically different approach to addicts, abandoning conventional cycles of shame, stigma, and incarceration, and instead adopting greater capacities of compassion. “So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety,” Hari writes. “It is human connection.”
In this talk, Hari discusses the landmark studies that demonstrate the connections between addiction and environment. He investigates the countries that have witnessed incredible success by accepting these findings: plummeting rates of drug use, addiction, violent crime, overdoses, and more. And he issues a call to treat the addicts in our lives much differently, changing both our politics and our hearts. Combining the best social science with vividly human anecdotes, this is a transformative talk about what it means to be addicted, and what it means to recover.
Ninety percent of cannabis users are unharmed by the drug. So why is it still illegal in so many parts of the world? In this talk, Johann Hari unpacks the complicated issue of cannabis legalization, bringing to bear in-depth, on-the-ground research from 17 countries. He explains what a successful regulated trade looks like, and which arguments are most effective in bringing about lasting legislative change. He explores how, in uncertain political times, regulation might be rolled back — and how to assess the risk of new investments. And he also asks important questions every state, province, district, and voter needs to confront. How can supporting a legal trade help end the global war over drugs: an avoidable conflict that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands? How do illegal cannabis dealers operate? What are some fascinating potential uses for this oft-misrepresented substance, and how might more moderate strains gain popularity once the drug is made legal? And, finally, why are some people addicted — and what can we do about it? Employing striking evidence, cutting-edge science, and surprising facts, this keynote is a must for any group seeking more insight into how, and why, we can change the conversation around marijuana.
While writing the bestselling book Chasing the Scream, Johann Hari discovered that the drug war has very different motives and results than those described by our businesses and governments. Not only has strictly enforced prohibition claimed countless victims to incarceration, poverty, and murder around the world, but it’s actually led to more addicted users—the opposite of its touted purpose.
In this keynote, Hari traces the development of a global moral injustice, highlighting the previously untold story of how Billie Holiday was stalked and killed by the founder of the war—and what this tells us about what’s motivated it ever since. He relates the stirring testimonies of people whose lives have been transformed by ill-conceived policies, and the doctors and activists resolutely trying to change them. And he talks, with inspiring examples, on the alternative policies that show a clear way forward.
From the killing fields of northern Mexico, home of some of the world’s most dangerous cartels, to the teeming US prison system, to nations like Portugal that choose to pursue innovative solutions, this keynote condenses Hari’s years of deep reporting into a riveting talk on the war on drugs: its human and economic tolls, and its compassionate, economically sound solutions.