Stolen focus with Johann Hari
Think about anything you've ever achieved in your life that you're proud of, whether it's starting a business, being a good parent, learning to play the guitar, whatever it is. That thing that you're proud of, required a huge amount of sustained focus and attention. And when your ability to pay attention breaks down, your ability to achieve your goals breaks down, your ability to solve your problems breaks down.
Our ability to pay attention is collapsing. It’s not just you, our focus has been stolen by powerful external forces.
New York Times best-selling author Johann Hari has been on a mission to uncover why this is happening to us and whether we can get our focus back. In his newest book, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention, Hari investigates how technology and other facets of modern life have impacted our ability to concentrate. What he discovered were structural problems rather than the individuals personal failing.
In conversation with UNSW’s Rosalind Dixon, they explore why it is so important that we pay attention to this ‘attention revolution’ and what we can do to get our focus back.
Head here to purchase a copy of Johann Hari's book, Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention.
Ann Mossop: Welcome to the UNSW Centre for Ideas podcast, a place to hear ideas from the world's leading thinkers and UNSW Sydney's brightest minds. I'm Ann Mossop, director of the UNSW Centre for Ideas. This podcast was recorded on the lands of the Bidjigal People. We pay our respects to their elders past and present, whose sovereignty was never ceded. The conversation you're about to hear, Stolen Focus, features Johann Hari, with Rosalind Dixon, and was recorded live. I hope you enjoy the conversation.
Rosalind Dixon: Johann, welcome to UNSW.
Johann Hari: I'm so happy to be here! Cheers Ros.
Rosalind Dixon: Many people have read your work previously, and are very excited to hear about this new book, which is just an amazing, sort of, engagement with neuroscience, psychology, the expertise of how we think, how we concentrate, and tells us a lot about where we are as a country and a global society today.
Before I ask you about the books, I want to introduce you a little bit more fully to our readers and listeners. Johann is a best selling writer and journalist, who's written for the New York Times, Le Monde, The Guardian, and other newspapers. You may have read some of his other work. His first book was Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, and was recently adapted into the Oscar nominated film The United States vs. Billie Holiday. That's what we all aspire to, to have a Hollywood adaptation of our work. His second book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions, was described by the British Journal of general practice as one of the most important texts of recent years. And if you can get doctors agreeing with you, you're doing something right. But this one, Stolen Focus, is very much still a book, about which we are still writing, and which the history books will still be coming in to judge. I think it's a deeply important book. I found it really hard to read, because you got me from the beginning. And you told me I needed to pay attention. So all of a sudden, I couldn't speed read it, I couldn't skim it. I only got it recently. So I've been reading it every morning and evening. And trying to really give it the attention that it deserves so, you know…
Johann Hari: Oh, I’m really touched by that. Thank you.
Rosalind Dixon: A magnificent read. Sometimes painful. Sometimes it really gets one to think about, oh, maybe I'm not living my life, right as a person or a parent. But it was worth it. It was really worth it. And I think it really does speak very deeply to our societal challenges and the challenges we face as individuals. So it was superb. And congratulations.
Johann Hari: I'm really moved by what you said. Thank you.
Rosalind Dixon: So one of the things I love about the book is it takes us to a variety of locations, we go to Moscow and London and Melbourne and Sydney and Provincetown, which is a little town I've spent some time in…
Johann Hari: Ah! You’ve been to P-town!
Rosalind Dixon: So let's start at the beginning. You know, you write this book about our inability to focus and you do a kind of method acting, where you go into Provincetown for three months, and try and completely unplug, to recapture your own sense of focus. So tell us about that experience. Obviously, it really brings us in at the beginning of the book, but tell us what drove you to do it? And what it was like.
Johann Hari: I think there was a moment for me that was a real catalyst for the decision to go to Provincetown. So I've got a godson and when he was nine, he developed this brief but freakishly intense obsession with Elvis Presley. And it was unbelievably cute, partly because he seemed to genuinely not know that impersonating Elvis had become a cheesy cliche. So I think he was literally the last person in the history of the world, do a totally sincere impression of Elvis. And one night, he would… every night actually, when I would tuck him in, he would get me to tell him the story of Elvis’ life. Obviously, I tried to skip over the bit where he died on the toilet. And, one night, I mentioned Graceland where Elvis lived. And he said to me, oh, Johann, will you take me to Graceland one day. And I said, sure, the way you do with nine year olds, knowing next week, it'll be Lego Land or whatever. And he looked at me really intensely and said, no, do you promise? One day you take me to Graceland? And I said I absolutely promise.
Rosalind Dixon: But he forgot and you remembered!
Johann Hari: Well I didn’t even think of it again for 10 years until just so many things had gone wrong. By the time he was 15, he dropped out of school. And when he was 19. This will sound like an exaggeration. It's not. He spent literally almost all of his waking hours alternating between his iPad, his iPhone, his laptop, his life was just this blur of WhatsApp, YouTube pornography. And it was, it was almost like he was kind of whirring at the speed of Snapchat. You know, when nothing's still or serious could touch him. And one day we were sitting on my sofa in London and I'd been trying to get a conversation going with him all day and I couldn't, and to be totally honest with you. I wasn't that much better. You know, I was staring at my own devices. And I suddenly remembered this moment. And I said to him, hey, let's go to Graceland. And he looked at me completely blankly. And I, I reminded him and I said, let's break this numbing routine. Let's go on a big road trip all over the south, but as you think in your head, I thought, you're gonna promise me if we go you'll leave your phone in the hotel during the day. There's no point in us going if you’re just gonna stare at your phone the whole time. And it really, it took a moment, he really thought about it and said, yeah, I want to do this. Let's do it. I think it was literally like two, maybe three weeks later, we took off from Heathrow to New Orleans where we went first. A couple of weeks after that. We got to Graceland. And when you get to Graceland, now, this is even before COVID, there's no one to show you around. What happens is they hand you an iPad, you put in the earbuds and the iPad shows you around. It says go left go right. It tells you a story about the room you're in. And every room you go in, there's an image of that room on the iPad in front of you. So what happens, it's a really weird thing, is everyone just walks around Graceland staring at their iPad. And I’m just watching this, getting annoyed by it, and I say, oh no, sometimes people do look away from the iPad. They do it to take out their phone, take a selfie, and they go back to the screen. And we got to the jungle room, that was Elvis’ favourite room in Graceland. It's got loads of fake plants in it, that frankly has seen better days. And I'll never forget it. There was a Canadian couple next to us. And the man turned to his wife. And he said, honey, this is amazing, look, if you swipe left, you can see the jungle room to the left. And if you swipe right, you can see the jungle room to the right. And I thought he was joking, so I laughed out loud. And I just stood and watched them, and they were just swiping back and forth. And I couldn't restrain myself, I leaned forward and I said, but hey sir…
Rosalind Dixon: You’re in the jungle room!
Johann Hari: You don’t have to do it! Like that's an old fashioned form of swiping, it's called turning your head because we're literally in the jungle room. You don't have to look at digital representation of it. And they looked at me like I was completely deranged, possibly correctly, and backed out of the room. And I turned to my godson to laugh about it. And he was standing in the corner staring at Snapchat, because the minute we landed, he just couldn't stop. He couldn't stop. And I went up to him and I did that thing. That's never a good idea. I'm just saying, I'm sure as a teacher you're tempted to do sometimes, I tried to grab the phone out of his hands. And I said to him, Look, I know you're afraid of missing out. But this is guaranteeing that you'll miss out. You're not showing up at your own life. You're not present at the events of your own existence. And he stormed off, understandably. And I wandered around Memphis on my own that day. And I found him that night by the Heartbreak Hotel. In the Heartbreak Hotel where we were staying. And he was sitting by the big guitar shaped swimming pool. I went up to him and I apologised for getting so angry. And he was looking at Snapchat, and he didn't look up from his phone. But he said, I know something's really wrong here. And I don't know what it is. And I sort of realised in that moment, oh, we went away to get away from this problem of distraction. But it felt like there was nowhere to escape to.
Rosalind Dixon: Yeah, it followed you.
Johann Hari: Exactly. Because it seemed to be… exactly that, that's the better way of putting it than I would have… exactly right. And I remember coming back… and at that time, I had in my head, what I now realised, were two really oversimplified stories about why this was happening, in my case, because my attention was getting worse as well. I thought, well, first, was, you’re weak. There’s something with you. Why can't you resist this? And the second story was, someone invented the smartphone. And that screwed me over, right?
Rosalind Dixon: And that's kind of what, you know, you say, you went to Provincetown, where one of your biggest, you know, challenges was, how do I unplug? And you went to these extreme lengths to get an old man's phone that would, you know, send a beep if you fell over, but couldn't connect it to the internet, which I loved as a story. And the amusement of the sales clerk who was, sort of, like, you really don't want to buy this device. But you did. And you go there, and you have three months of trying to go on your own journey. And one things I want to talk about is, you know, this idea that we are all trapped in this experience, and it's not an individual failing. So I think it's a really deeply poignant but important insight of the book, but you go there, you unplug…
Johann Hari: Yeah I have no laptop that could get online, I had no smartphone.
Rosalind Dixon: No internet connection.
Johann Hari: Yeah.
Rosalind Dixon: And it sounds like it was a really important journey for you, which is, it started as kind of euphoric, and then you felt really deep deprivation and sadness, but then you came through that and found, sort of, healing and a new sense of purpose and reflection in the process.
Johann Hari: Yeah, I mean, it's funny because you know, Provincetown, I don't need to tell you this, but if you don't know Provincetown, it's a place in Cape Cod. It's it's a little kind of gay resort town. It's the kind of place where more than one person earns a full time living by dressing as Ursula, the villain from The Little Mermaid and singing songs about cunnilingus. It's a great place. And initially, the first week was, like, this kind of haze of decompression and relief, you know. I felt like I had been followed around, ever since the invention of the smartphone, by a kind of parade that's constantly shouting and yelling and banging symbols and, and suddenly it was like the parade had gone away. And I could just sort of sit quietly. And it's a tremendous relief, I almost felt kind of stoned with relief. And then I had this really lovely period of, like, starting to think a bit more deeply. And then I had this just disastrous crash. I remember walking down the beach in the west end of Provincetown, and seeing loads of people on the beach with their phones, and it was driving me crazy, because again Provincetown is, as you know, one of the most beautiful places in the world. And people were not looking at it. They were using it as a kind of backdrop, almost like it was a film set for their instagram…
Rosalind Dixon: It’s like the jungle room all over again!
Johann Hari: Exactly. But this time, instead of being, put your phone away, look at the world, isn't it amazing? I was like, I wanted to go, give me that phone! Me! Mine! Right? I wanted to snap… I wanted… and I realised…
Rosalind Dixon: You wanted to be part of it again.
Johan Hari: Exactly. Well, this is a pretentious way of putting it, but I found myself thinking about, you know, Simone de Beauvoir wrote that, when she became an atheist, it was like the world had gone silent. And I realised, being deprived of the internet made me feel like the world had gone silent. I had spent so long, all through the day, getting these kind of thin, insistent signals from the internet. And when they were gone, it was this peculiar…
Rosalind Dixon: Was it empty, almost?
Johann Hari: Yeah, exactly. That's the word. And, then I realised, okay, it's not enough to just separate yourself, you created a vacuum, you now need to fill that vacuum with the things that are meaningful to you. And I succeeded in doing that in all sorts of ways, we can talk about, but I remember, at the end of my time in Provincetown, I mean, the thing that most stunned me is, after that initial dip, how much my attention came back. So also the other story I had was, I was nearly 40, I thought, well, maybe my attention has gotten worse, because I've gotten older, my attention went back to being as good as then when I was 17, I was amazed by how well I can focus on reading or having proper long conversations with people. It was a really profoundly moving experience for me. And I remember at the end of my time in Provincetown, the very last day I was there, I went to the… you know where you can get… that point at the end of Provincetown, you can look back over the whole town, and be on the lighthouse. And I remember looking at it, and thinking, god why would I ever go back to how I was before? This is amazing, right? You know, I would say to anyone listening or watching, think about anything you've ever achieved in your life that you're proud of, whether it's starting a business, being a good parent, learning to play the guitar, whatever it is, that thing that you're proud of required a huge amount of sustained focus and attention. And when your ability to pay attention breaks down, your ability to achieve your goals breaks down, your ability to solve your problems breaks down, you feel less competent, because you actually are less competent. And getting my attention back was a feeling of getting my competence back.
And the next day, I got back to Boston, my friend Shaelyn gave me back my laptop and my proper phone, my smartphone. And within two months, I was 80% back to where I'd been. And I felt this real despair. I was like, oh, why is this happening? I only really began to understand it. When I went to Moscow to interview Dr. James Williams, who used to be at the heart of the Silicon Valley machine. That’s played such a key role in doing this to us, along with eleven other factors that I wrote about. And he kind of quit in horror. He's become, I would argue, the leading philosopher of attention in the world. He lives in Moscow because his wife works…
Rosalind Dixon: Who works for the World Health Organisation.
Johann Hari: Yeah, his wife works for the World Health Organisation. They have left now obviously, because of the Ukraine situation. And I remember him saying to me, well, the mistake you've made, Johann, is it's like thinking, the solution for air pollution is for you personally to wear a gas mask, right? Not against gas masks. If I lived in Beijing, I'd wear one of those pollution masks. It's not a solution to air pollution, the solution to air pollution is to actually deal…
Rosalind Dixon: It’s structural.
Johan Hari: Exactly, to deal with the source. And he said, we need to do something similar with attention. And I don’t think I fully understood it then, it was only, kind of, later, a big part of the journey, that I really began to understand what he meant.
Rosalind Dixon: So the book tells us that attention is important, individually and socially, and that we've lost it. For not just one reason but as you say 12 reasons all of which interlock and are pretty complicated. But before I get to James and his notion of attention, I love the image he captures of different forms of light and your addendum to it. Just tell us again, why does attention matter so much? It matters individually, as you say, for a sense of efficacy and self efficacy. But you also have this lovely, sort of, argument that our societal capacity for attention is diminished. And that affects our ability to tackle some of our most pressing challenges like climate change. Are you motivated by the individual, the collective or all of it, in trying to get us to pay attention again?
Johann Hari: Well, I think, you alluded to those different layers of attention that Dr. Williams has talked about, I think, really help us to think about the different ways in which tension is important, and led me to thinking also about what I think is maybe the most important layer, which is the collective one. So he argues that attention is like a kind of light, which has really, really helped me to think about it. And he argues, there's three layers, I would argue there's four, and I know he agrees with this, when I suggested it to him. So the first layer is what we generally think about when we think about attention problems. And it's what he calls our spotlight, it comes from William James, the founder of American, modern American psychology. So it goes back to the 1890s, this image. So the spotlight image is… your spotlight… think about this room, right? So we're in a room now. There's lights, I can see, if I turn my head, I can see the people in the control room, I know that my phone is somewhere in the control room, there's a nice guy behind the camera wearing a mask. There’s all sorts of things. I can slightly hear a buzzing sound if I zone out. I'm narrowing that… I’m filtering all of that out, and I’m narrowing my spotlight down to you. What did you just ask me? Oh, yeah, you asked me about that. Okay. So I've narrowed my spotlight down to you. So your spotlight is your ability to narrow down all the stimuli you're exposed to, to one thing and attend to it in the short term. And so when we think about potential problems, we often think, you know, an obvious example would be, I go to the fridge to get a Coke Zero, on the way there, my friend Rob texts me, I start looking at the text, oh, what's wrong here? I start replying, and I'm standing in the middle…
Rosalind Dixon: Forget about Rob!
Johann Hari: Well, I have just forgotten why I went to the fridge and I come back and I don't have my Diet Coke, right? So we could, we all know those things are happening all the time, right? So that would be a disruption to your spotlight. It’s a disruption to your ability to achieve an immediate short term task. When we think about distraction. That's generally what we think of, oh, god, I wanted to get this but I couldn't get that, because I got that. And then someone interrupted me and I was trying to do this. And wait, what did you ask me again? It’s that kind of distraction.
Rosalind Dixon: Which has the most immediate sort of instrumental payoff, right? Educationally, work productivity, economically, but it's the most immediate and instrumental, but, part of what you're interested in is these other layers.
Johann Hari: You must be seeing that level of, that initial level of distraction in lectures and things? Do you see that a lot? Or?
Rosalind Dixon: Well, I think, you know, students are grappling with all of the challenges you talk about. So you say, you know, what's undermining our spotlight, lack of sleep, stress, the pandemic, distraction from technology, all of those things are very real. But you know, there are different ways of teaching at both class size and interaction. And the different ways in which we engage people and build community can help overcome that. But absolutely, it's a challenge for all of us. So that's our spotlight. Take us up…
Johann Hari: The next level up is what he calls your starlight. And that's not your ability to achieve an immediate short term task, like I want to get a Coke from the fridge. That's a longer term task, like, I want to write this term paper, I want to set up a business, I want to be a good parent, whatever it might be.
Rosalind Dixon: Write a good book?
Johann Hari: Exactly! Read my book! So that is a longer term goal. It's called your starlight because when you're lost in the desert, and you don't have GPS, you look to the stars to figure out where you're meant, to what direction you're heading in, right? And he argues, I think, very persuasively and powerfully, that if your spotlight is disrupted enough, your starlight begins to be disrupted, you don't just lose your ability, you don't just have it see a diminishment in your ability to achieve a short term goal. you see a diminishment in your ability to achieve your longer term goals. I think we can all feel that happening.
Rosalind Dixon: So one of the things, you know, I was getting kind of depressed reading the book, because I was like, oh, wow, we live in an age in which we are being fragmented in this kind of way that's really hard for us as individuals to overcome. But you talk about the, sort of, psychology of flow, and how there's one view of human agency, which is often associated with the psychologist Skinner, that is we are very limited in our agencies. And we are, you know, very manipulated by our context. But you talk to this Claremont Professor Mihaly about flow and how if one can identify a purpose that has meaning and approach it in a way that has the right level of focus, we can have a great sense of self efficacy. And so I guess starlight is about flow, right? And without starlight, we don't have flow, and part of what you achieved in Provincetown was flow, and it's what we can all, in the individual sense, aspire to after reading this book, is that flow is not the same as hedonic experience. It's not always about fun. It's about a sense of purpose and self efficacy. And I do think the book really brings us back to that anyway, I think it's very powerful.
Johann Hari: Oh, thank you. I think there's a thing about, remind me just to in a minute, say about the other two…
Rosalind Dixon: We're going to layer up, don't worry!
Johann Hari: The stuff about flow, I found really helpful. So, everyone listening and watching will have experienced a flow state, even if they've never heard that term.
Rosalind Dixon: Yeah.
Johann Hair: So a flow state is when you're doing something, and you just get really into it. And your sense of ego falls away, your sense of time falls away, you're just, it's like a ‘zjwoom’, you're in the zone. And then when it ends, you're a bit like, wow, that went quickly, I got a lot done, right? The way one rock climber put it, is if you're in flow, and you're rock climbing, it's like you are the rock you're climbing. And flow is really important for the debate about attention, because flow is both the deepest form of attention that people can provide. And once you're in it, it’s the easiest form of attention to provide. It's not like, you know, memorising facts for an exam, like what year did Abraham Lincoln die? What year did Federation happen? It's not like that. It flows effortlessly. So I wanted to figure out, if this is a gusher of attention that exists inside all of us. Where do we drill to get it?
Rosalind Dixon: How do we channel it?
Johann Hari: Exactly. So I went to go and see Prof Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it took me so long to learn how to say that, I'm gonna say his name repeatedly, just to prove I can.
Rosalind Dixon: Oh, it’s a great name and you can! Yeah.
Johann Hari: He’s a great person as well. But I went to interview him, so he was the man who discovered, as you know, flow states, and he was one of the most important psychologists of the 20th century, and he spent more than 60 years studying flow states, I'm pretty sure that the last interview he ever did, because he died, sadly, shortly afterwards. And Professor Csikszentmihalyi learned a huge number of things and discovered a huge number of things about flow states, but for your students, and anyone watching, I think there's three things in particular, that can really help them if they want to try to get into a flow state, maximise their chances, no guarantee, but you can really increase the odds. So there's three things. Firstly, you've got to choose one goal, and set aside a significant amount of time in which you're just going to pursue that one goal and not do anything else. If you're switching all the time between tasks, you won't get into flow, you've got to be like, okay, this afternoon, I'm going to paint this canvas. I'm going to write this essay, I'm going to do this gardening, whatever it might be, right? So one goal. Secondly, you've got to make sure it's a goal that's meaningful to you, right? And attention evolved to attach to meaning. A frog will stare longer at a fly than a stone, because the fly is meaningful to the frog, and the stone is not right. So we evolved to… it's one of the reasons, by the way, so many kids are struggling to focus in our schools, because we're getting them to learn things that are meaningless to them for tests that are in fact meaningless.
Rosalind Dixon: It's either meaningless, or we fail to explain to them why it has meaning.
Johann Hari: Exactly, we haven't infused it with meaning for them. Exactly. We haven't helped them to build… It's not I mean, I honestly don’t think history geography maps are meaningless. If we haven't, if their experience of it is just rote learning it for a test, then that will be meaningless to them. So it's got to be something that's meaningful. And thirdly, and this to me felt a bit counterintuitive, but I suspect to you, as a teacher, you'll be seeing this all the time, is it really helps to maximise your chances of getting into flow if you push yourself to the edge of your comfort zone, the edge of your abilities, but not beyond it. So let's say you're a rock climber, a medium talent, rock climber, you don't just want to try and climb over your garden wall that’s too easy, you won't get into flow. Equally, you don't want to try and suddenly climb Mount Everest tomorrow, that's going to be too overwhelming. You want to climb a slightly higher and harder rock face than the one you did last time. So flow begins at the edge of your comfort zone. If you push yourself to the edge of your abilities, but not beyond it, which is a difficult thing to gauge, then you maximise your chance. Because you do need three things: narrow down to one goal, make sure it's a meaningful goal, push yourself to the edge of your abilities. You maximise your chances of accessing this deep form of attention. Even as I say that, you can see how the way we're living is currently undermining our ability to get into flow, even that first step, just do one thing. Okay. If you're being interrupted by text messages, you're not doing one thing, right? It's gonna jolt you out of that process of getting into flow.
Rosalind Dixon: Let's come back to sort of how we can re-find our flow. But I think just the idea of it is very interesting. And you give credit to the way in which we're both manipulated and capable of working for flow. No, I think it helps understand that we are all diverse people. And our particular goal and sense of meaning will differ. So I was talking to a friend on the weekend, who's gone from running marathons to ultra marathons and I'm a 4k kind of person. I'm like, you know, I don't need to do 100k to feel, you know, the edge of my ability. I'm comfortable with one lap. But understanding how different people need to be pushed and where that limit is.
Johann Hari: Yeah, the only time I've ever run anywhere is when I thought KFC was about to close in 1996. I got there, still an hour to go. So wasted time, that was! But yeah, so that's definitely not how I got into my flow, but I admire it nonetheless.
Rosalind Dixon: And you know, I think I've done some reading about cognitive behavioural therapy and when I'm talking about anxiety and panic disorders, there's a similar resonance there of, you know, if one pushes oneself beyond one's limit, it can just trigger further anxiety. But if you can expose yourself, up to, and just at your comfort zone level, you can make real progress and so that, for all of us, it's about finding meaning, but also being, you know, really realistic about what our limits are and what our capacities are. I thought that was really, really interesting.
So we've got, spotlight, which is kind of intuitive, paying attention to a task. There's the next level up, which is starlight, which is knowing what goals we want to set ourselves and how we get there. But above starlight, is daylight, and daylight is this much more capacious form of thinking. Tell us how you define it. And I really want to ask you about the connection to daydreaming because I think in the book, you really closely connect daylight and daydreaming.
Johann Hari: Yeah, so it's just… Dr. Williams is the person who came up with this, is such a great person and your daylight is not your ability to achieve a longer term goal. But your ability to even know what your longer term goals are. How do you know you want to write a book? How do you know you want to set up a business? How do you know what it means to be a good parent? To do those things, you have to have periods of rest, of reflection, of daydreaming, of which we're talking about more… mind wandering. And if you're just jammed up all the time, if you never have moments of rest, relaxation, deeper thought, how do you even figure out what these things are? So he argues that it's called your daylight because you can see a room most clearly when it's flooded in daylight. And he argues that just our ability to see clearly in those moments of thought and reflection, are being profoundly disrupted. He argues, in its most extreme form, it leads to a, kind of, decohering in people, where, it’s harder to tell a story about yourself and make sense of your life. It relates, as you say, in part to this huge explosion that there's been in the science of daydreaming, which has really emerged, in the last – or mind wandering rather, and this debate about difference between them – in the last 20 years, from people like Professor Jonathan Smallwood at York University, who I interviewed, or Professor Nathan Spreng at McGill University in Montreal who I also interviewed. I thought about this a lot in Provincetown. I remember a month into Provincetown… I went there partly because I wanted to read so much, because it has been, like, one of the greatest joys of my life. And I’d brought with me, obviously I couldn’t listen to… audio…
Rosalind Dixon: A device! Yeah.
Johann Hari: And so I brought with me an iPod, which is funny, people would see it in Provincetown, which I'd loaded up before I went, people would look at it like it was some kind of, I remember how futuristic iPod’s seemed when I first got one and it looked like something from Noah’s Arc.
Rosalind Dixon: An archive!
Johann Hari: Yeah, exactly. But it's funny, I remember whenever – I had these noise cancelling headphones – whenever I would turn them on, it would always say, searching for Johann’s iPhone, and then it would go, connection cannot be made. And it felt very ominous.
Rosalind Dixon: It felt sad, yeah.
Johann Hari: But initially, I would walk around listening to these pre-loaded podcasts and audiobooks. And then a little while in I started just going for walks, you know, and just leaving the iPod behind. I remember first thinking, oh, this is not what you came here to do. You came into focus more. This is self indulgence, right? Get a sense of how entirely critical my voice is. I started to realise, these long walks were actually often the most creative moments of my day. I was starting to have loads of ideas for different things, I was starting to think more deeply, starting to see connections between things. And I was puzzled by that until after, obviously, after Provincetown I went to interview all these experts and read their work very deeply. And it turns out, so we think of mind wandering, you know, we're taught as children that mind wandering is a bad thing. In other words…
Rosalind Dixon: It's the opposite of spotlight.
Johann Hari: Exactly. Well, teachers are very often, you know, he's not doing well, he just daydreams in class all day, right? But in fact, there's scientific evidence on this. The emerging scientific field about this has discovered when we're just mind wandering, actually, many of our most important thought processes happen. Mind wandering is where you start to make connections between things that you didn't see the connection between before. Which is often the font of creativity. It's why a lot of scientists and novelists and other artistic people will tell you, oh, I sat at my desk for 10 hours, I couldn't see the solution, I went for a walk and it came to me, right? It's important for connection and creativity. When you daydream, or mind wander. That's often how you process the past, it's often how you anticipate the future. It’s a really important… so, mind wandering is actually a form of focus.
Rosalind Dixon: It's at a different level.
Johann Hari: Exactly. Exactly. That's exactly it. And so I really have tried to integrate that into my, sort of, everyday life now. Wherever I'm in the world, I always take at least an hour, where I go for a walk with no phone, no, no iPod, nothing to distract me and that is almost always my most creatively fertile hour in the day. I think this relates very much to Dr. Williams’ typology, because you can sort of see, oh, it's often in that hour that you start to make sense to yourself, sometimes you'll go, why did I do that? Or don't do that, you know? Oh, it's because of that. And why did he say that thing that upset me? Oh, I get it, it's actually because he was feeling bad about this. And it's often those moments where, if you don't do that, if you're just sort of bashing through life, and you don't get those moments, where you stop and go, oh that actually, that kind of makes sense, you feel more brittle, you feel more anxious, it's actually, I find it incredibly calming. Not always, sometimes it can actually be quite anxiety provoking to not have anything to distract you. So I don't want to overstate it but very often, it's a crucial period of my day for things making sense in the end.
Rosalind Dixon: Well, you've clearly kept something from Provincetown. You know, you say you got back to 80%, but an hour of…
Johann Hari: That was initially. I got a lot better… I sort of say, if it was a graph, it's like, hugely went up during Provincetown, went back, after, and then obviously, I go on the scientific journey, and I learned lots of the things we can do as individuals and as a society. So I'd say now, I would say, I'm, maybe, you know, I've got 60% of what I had in Provincetown, which is pretty good, given the environment we live in.
Rosalind Dixon: Absolutely. So then the last layer of light is one that isn't Dr. Williams, but you, which is stadium light, which is the sort of macro perspective on our society, and our connection as a community. And that's what you suggest is, in some ways, really important for collective attention to our common problems. So how is technology disrupting the stadium light? I love the story… I mean, it's a terrible story, but it's a great story about Facebook, and its incentives to keep us apart. So what role is technology playing in disrupting our stadium light?
Johann Hari: Your stadium lights, I would argue, are your ability, our ability to see each other and to formulate collective goals. It's not just our individual attention that's collapsing. It's our collective attention. I don't think it's a coincidence that we're having the biggest crisis in democracy since the 1930s. At the same time, as this attention… huge attention crisis. Certainly not the only reason, that would be an absurd thing to say, but I think it is a significant factor. And when countries as different as Britain, Brazil, and Burma are all going crazy, in similar ways, polarising on similar trend lines, I think that does tell you something about underlying mechanisms. So I think to understand this, and to me, actually, all the… look, obviously, many of the things I wrote about in the book are really close to my heart, and really important. I think this is the most important of all. I think attention is our superpower, a species that loses its superpower at the time of its greatest challenges, like the climate crisis, that's not good, right? I've been thinking about it a lot, obviously, being here in Australia, given what everyone here has been through, from the Black Summer, to this terrible flooding that's happening now. And also the very encouraging result in the election where climate change was finally prioritised. And so I think this is so important and to understand one of the mechanisms by which this attention crisis, and the factors driving it, are profoundly damaging our ability to deal with any collective problem. I think you have to understand some of the mechanisms about how social media currently works and what we can do about that. So at the moment, anyone watching, please don't, but if you open TikTok, or Facebook or Twitter, and start to scroll, you need to understand that those companies begin to make money out of you immediately in two ways. First way is really obvious. You see ads, okay, no one needs me to tell them about that. Second way is much more important. Everything you do on those apps is scanned and sorted by the artificial intelligence algorithms, everything you say, everything you like, everything you do. And they're doing that, in order to figure out what the weaknesses in your attention are. What is it that keeps you scrolling? Right? So different people, it's different things. For me, it would be a mixture of Noam Chomsky quotes and pictures of shirtless men, I don’t know what it is for you! Whatever it is, they are figuring out, what are the things that keep you scrolling.
Rosalind Dixon: And this is what you call surveillance capitalism.
Johann Hari: Yeah it’s a term from Professor Shoshana Zuboff at Harvard, an amazing and wonderful person. And the reason for this is very simple, and this was explained to me by people in Silicon Valley, who had been at the heart of the machinery doing this to us. And it's for a very simple reason. Every time you pick up your phone and open these apps, those companies start to make money out of you. The longer you scroll, because you see more ads, the more money they make from the advertisers. Every time you close the app, that revenue stream disappears. Every time your kid opens the phone. It starts to scroll through these apps. The longer they scroll, the more money they make. Every time they close it, the revenue stream disappears. And it seemed to me almost bizarrely simplistic, but this is how everyone kept explaining it to me and when you look at the evidence, it's clear. The whole machinery in Silicon Valley is geared towards one thing, which is figuring out how do we get you to open the app as often as possible, and scroll as long as possible? Just like the head of KFC, the only thing he cares about in his professional capacity is, did you go to KFC today? If you did, how big was the bucket you bought? You have such a glowingly healthy look, I'm sure you don't ever go there. Unlike me. But in the same way, all they care about is how often did you pick up the app? How long did you scroll? Because that is how they make money. Now that has combined with something else, which is leading to a disaster for our politics. So you've got a business model as Professor Zuboff says, surveillance capitalism, that's premised on getting you to scroll more and more and more. And those algorithms were just trying to figure out, neutrally, they don't care what it is. What is it that makes people scroll more? And those algorithms bumped into an unfortunate human truth, which has been known about by psychologists for, what, 70 years, which is called negativity bias. And everyone watching experiences negativity bias. Negativity bias is just, you will stare longer at something that makes you upset or angry than you will at something that makes you feel good. If anyone has ever seen a car accident, you know exactly what I mean. You stared longer at the bloody car wreck than you did at the pretty flowers on the other side of the street, right? This is very deep in human nature. 10 week old babies will stare longer at an angry face than a smiley face. This is probably for good reason in our evolution…
Rosalind Dixon: It’s probably our survival instinct, yeah.
Johann Hari: Yeah, our ancestors who didn't… weren't looking out for the angry stuff…
Rosalind Dixon: Dot eaten by a lion.
Johann Hari: Exactly, so but when this combined when you got a combination of algorithms, figuring out what keeps people scrolling, combined with negativity bias, what it discovered is, oh, if we feed people things that make them angry and upset, that will get them to scroll longer than if we feed them things that make them feel good. So picture two teenage girls who go to the same party, and leave and go home on the same bus. And one of them does a TikTok video or a Facebook update or whatever it might be, saying, you know wha, it was a really nice party, I had a great time, everyone looked lovely, what a night. And the other girl goes, Karen was a total skank at that party, her boyfriend’s an asshole, just does an angry rant. I spend too much time with my niece trying to navigate social media with her, so I’m too familiar with these terms. And what will happen is the algorithm scans both, they pick up both, they're looking for the kind of language you use. It'll put the first update into a few people's feeds. It will put the second update into far more people's feeds. Because if it's enraging it's engaging right. I would go, what do you mean Karen's a skank? You're a skank! You can see how… whereas the first one, was, oh, nice night, nice.
Rosalind Dixon: Yeah, done.
Johann Hari: That's bad enough at the level of two teenage girls on a bus. We all know what's happened to teenage girls’ mental health, the disastrous effect. But imagine a whole society being plugged into that. And oh, wait, you don't have to imagine it. Because that's what's been happening to us, right? And it's funny, in some ways, it's easy to think about that in relation to Trump and Brexit. But I actually found it easier to see it in relation to Brazil, where I’ve spent a fair bit of time, which is not, obviously, not my country, and a place I care about, but not a place that I'm especially, kind of, close to. And think about it there, Jair Bolsonaro, the current monstrous far right president of Brazil, hopefully going to be defeated in November, but it may trigger a civil war, going down, to do it. If you go back seven, eight years, no a bit more than that, 10 years, Bolsonaro was a washed up far right senator with no credibility of any kind, right? He was a very marginal figure, nostalgic for the military dictatorships of the 70s and 80s. That kind of irrelevance. I mean, I was gonna say like Pauline Hanson, but actually more marginal than Pauline Hanson. And then what happened is he began to make escalating outrageous comments that were hugely amplified by social media.
Rosalind Dixon: Oh, the homophobia, sexist stuff that got picked up. Yeah.
Johann Hari: Yeah. He said that he'd rather his son died than was gay. He told… during a debate in the Senate about rape, he tells several female senators, you don't have to worry about this, you're so ugly, no one's going to rape you. He said that the blacker residents of the Favelas were, the phrase, the sickening phrase was, they were not even fit for the zoo. Not even good enough for breeding, and should go back to the zoo. That was the phrase he used. Repulsive. These things are hugely amplified by the algorithms, right? Again, not intentionally, but they make people angry. So they're hugely amplified Bolsonaro gains, and gains to support. He, although he was kind of not. It was kind of locked out of the mainstream Brazilian media. He's massively amplified by these algorithms. And he wins the presidency. Again, it's not the only factor but it's such a significant factor that the night he won, at his election rally, his supporters chanted Facebook, Facebook, Facebook, because they knew what an important factor it had been. He then becomes president, he accelerates the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, he accelerates extraordinarily violent repression of minorities within Brazil, he, when COVID arrives, he tells people to take it like a man.
Rosalind Dixon: He denies its existence, and then gets it himself. Let's just think about though, part of the challenge, which is, you tell us at the beginning of the book, that one of the problems is the speed at which information is hitting us. You know, Thomas Friedman said the world is flat, you say the world is fast, you know, it's the sense of relentless information. And social media just makes it so much worse. But one solution, which is to start tuning out and to, you know, push back, can create the kind of polarised information, you know, separation, the acoustic separation between left and right, we've seen, the United States, that Brazil, there are people who are Bolsonaro supporters who have not heard any counter evidence to the pack of lies and hate that he has been peddling. And so isn't one of the dangers for democracy, that is we encourage people to pull back and, you know, go slower, that we don't encourage a kind of retreat to smaller enclaves of, safe, you know, enforcing information, that just is a feedback loop of confirmatory bias.
Johann Hari: That is such an important point. And it's why for all of the 12 factors that I write about in Stolen Focus that are harming our attention, there are two levels at which we need to respond I think. I think of them as defence and offence. There are loads of things we need to do to defend ourselves and our children as individuals. But you're absolutely right. It comes back to the gas mask analogy. You can wear gas masks to protect yourself from air pollution, but you're surrounded by other people being exposed to air pollution. And, you know, I don't believe, although I'm in favour of it, the ultimate solution is not for you and me to retreat into safer enclaves of cleaner air, right? The political equivalent of cleaner air. Okay, you can just read the New York Times every day, not that The New York Times is so perfect. I would urge people to also read Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky to see why there's lots of problems in the New York Times, but it's a lot better than Alex Jones and the garbage that's been promoted by the algorithms. So we can do that. But if we're in a society, that's going crazy, because everyone else is being exposed to this garbage, if you know, I can do that, and congratulate myself on my purity, while Britain is pulled out of the European Union, right? That you can see, you can do that while Scott Morrison is appointing himself to five random ministries and not telling anyone, that that's ultimately not the solution, the solution, this defence, which we have to do, clearly, but equally, we have to go on offence, we have to deal with the factors that are doing this to us. And that can sound very big and very insurmountable. But actually, I left quite optimistic in many ways. So if you think about, obviously, the tech component, which is one of the 12 factors that I write about in the book, that are harming our attention, actually vary widely from the food we eat, to the way we work, to our schools work to the way to the air, we breathe, there's a whole array of things, but I think about it in relation to tech. It was fascinating talking to people in Silicon Valley about this, and lots of them saying to me, well, the solution is kind of clear, and it took a long time of them explaining it to me, before I really understood this. So Aza Raskin, for example, who invented a key part of how most websites work, and his dad Jef Raskin actually invented the Apple Macintosh for Steve Jobs. Aza said to me, look, the solution to this element of it, is pretty simple. You've got to ban the current business model, you've got to ban…
Rosalind Dixon: Surveillance capitalism.
Johann Hari: Surveillance capitalism. Exactly. You've got to say that a business model based on secretly surveilling people in order to hack and invade their attention…
Rosalind Dixon: Is illegal.
Johann Hari: It's just immoral. We're not allowed. We don't allow leaded petrol anymore. We don't allow…
Rosalind Dixon: Asbestos.
Johann Hari: Yeah, exactly. It's an intellectual equivalent of asbestos. It's an attentional equivalent of asbestos. We won't allow it, it’s wrong. And we're saying to Aza, and lots of other people like Jaron Lanier, who said this to me. Okay, so what happens the next day? Let's say we do that. And I open Facebook, would it just say, sorry, guys, we've gone fishing, he said, of course not. What would happen is we would have to move to a different business model. And almost everyone watching will have experience of the two alternative business models. So the first is subscription. Everyone knows how Netflix works, you pay a certain amount, you get access. The key thing is, if you do that, all the incentives change.
Rosalind Dixon: They want to give you good content, not prey on your weaknesses.
Johann Hari: That's a really good way of putting it. Because at the moment, all the incentives, you know, if you're any of these companies, your job is to figure out, okay, what are the weaknesses in Bob's attention, so that we can hack Bob and sell his attention to the advertisers? Because Bob isn't the customer. No, you're not the customer of Facebook or Twitter or TikTok, your attention is the product they sell to the real customer who's the advertiser. But if you move to a different model – and there's another one, as well, I’ll talk about it in a minute – if you move to a different model, suddenly you become the customer. Bob becomes the customer. Suddenly they have to go, what does Bob want? Oh, it turns out, Bob doesn't want to spend his life scrolling. Bob wants to meet up with his friends offline. Okay, let's design our app to maximise people meeting up offline, right? Technology to assist that could be done tomorrow!
Rosalind Dixon: Tell us quickly about the other model. And then I want to ask, you know, I'm a young person, I'm listening, I want to go and, you know, storm the Capitol and demand this, and what are the political economy challenges to getting it done?
Johann Hari: Yeah, so in terms of the other option, I get, literally everyone has experienced this watching. Before we had sewers, we had faeces in the street. People got cholera, it was terrible. So we all pay to build and maintain the sewers together. So you own the sewers in Sydney, I own the sewers in London.
Rosalind Dixon: Public utility.
Johann Hari: We publicly own it. Now, it might be that, like, we want to own the sewage pipes together, we might want to own the information pipes together, because we're getting the equivalent of cholera, but our attention, and our politics. Now you want to be very careful, that would have to be independent of government. I think a good model would be the BBC. The most trusted media organisation in the world, which is, you know, everyone in Britain, who has a television pays a licence fee. The BBC works for the British people, it's not perfect, but it's pretty good. And they're accountable to us, and they're not accountable to the government, right? So maybe some form of public ownership independent of government. But whatever alternative model we choose, the key thing is that all the incentives change. For as long as the incentives for these social media companies are to hack your attention, our attention will continue to get worse, right? And they are really, really good at it. As my friend Tristan Harris, who's been at the heart of Google says, you can try having self control, but every time you do this 10,000 engineers on the other side of the screen, undermining your self control, right? So we've got to deal with that.
Rosalind Dixon: So that point about the 10,000 people on the other side, gets us to what might be called cruel optimism, the idea that individuals can't necessarily fix this. But I do want to talk a bit about the individual solutions. First, I just want to say, about some of the other structural solutions that you propose, which I think are very interesting. You talk about, obviously, the lack of sleep, stress, you know, how our week, our day, and every hour of our working life is kind of compressed and stressed in ways that undermine our attention. So, obviously, you put, you know, premiums on sick and holiday leave, on the possibility of a four day work week as offering some respite from this. And of course, you know, that really is going to require sustained mobilisation, including, by unions. The end of the book, which you say is a little bit optimistic. And you say, well, you know, if we can ban coal, we can do anything. I've wanted to ask you, though, about how that connects to your opening claim that we can't pay attention politically, right? So aren't we trapped in this vortex of, we can't sustain attention. The political economy of the situation is such that, you know, fossil fuel companies and big tech push back so hard politically, that the political solutions are out of reach, and then we lose sight of them, and we lose attention, and we're defeated. So how can we maintain optimism about a four day work week or, you know, better leave, and terms and conditions, or banning surveillance capitalism, given how entrenched their political power is, as well as their hold on our attention, and our weakness of attention?
Johann Hari: So when I feel pessimistic, I think, a bit like in an analogy with the climate debate, there's certain points in the breakdown of the climate where you get into feedback loops, and it becomes impossible to go back, or even to hold yourself at the current level. So when I feel pessimistic, I think, have we crossed that threshold with attention? Has attention broken down so much that we can't summon the attention to fight to get it back? I don't know. But my instinct is that I don't think that's the case. And that we can actually fight for the you know, slightly jokingly, in the book, call it an attention rebellion. Yesterday I was in Melbourne and I saw some fantastic, chatted to some fantastic extinction rebellion protesters outside the parliament there who were fighting against the logging that's happening in Victoria. The reason I'm optimistic – this might sound like a strange thing to say – when I feel pessimistic about this, I think about my grandmothers, who I really loved. I was raised by one of my grandmothers because my mother was ill when I was a child and my dad was in a different country. My grandmothers were the age I am now in 1963. One of them was a working class Scottish woman, whose job was to clean toilets. She was raising three kids on her own because her husband had died. And the other one was, what would then have been called a Swiss peasant woman living in a wooden hut on the side of a mountain. When my grandmothers were the age I am now, neither of them were allowed to have bank accounts because they were married women, they weren't allowed to have bank accounts in their own name. It was legal for their husbands to rape them. As it was legal for men everywhere in the world to rape their wives. I'm conscious, I'm a man mansplaining this to you, and you know this much better than I do. It was, in practice, legal for their husbands to beat them, because police never did anything about domestic violence. My Swiss grandmother wasn't even allowed to vote, right? And I don't for a minute want to underestimate how much further we've got to go, in terms of achieving liberation for women.
Rosalind Dixon: Progress is possible, though, that’s your point?
Johann Hari: Well, I think about my niece's life, and I think, you know, my niece Erin, who is 17, and she never knew my Swiss grandmother, sadly. I think she met her when she was a tiny baby. But my Swiss grandmother loved to paint and draw. And when she was a girl, they said, shut up, why are you doing that? Put it away, get into the kitchen, that's your job, right? My niece, Erin loves to paint and draw… we started googling art schools, right? Now, I know my niece is gonna face more challenges than my nephews, in all sorts of maddening ways. But I think, when people sometimes say to me, very understandably, but big tech is so powerful, I will say to them, it's true, it is…
Rosalind Dixon: But so is the patriarchy.
Johann Hari: It’s not a 100th as powerful as men were in 1963! In 1963, and my grandmothers were the age I am now, men controlled literally every single institution of power in the entire world. Every country, company, police force – not every company, but almost every company – every police force, every military, I mean, there have been almost no female leaders anywhere apart from a few hereditary Queens. And I think there's an analogy between the fight for feminism and the fight for attention too, I don’t want to overdo the analogy, but there's also an analogy, where feminism is a fight that had to, and still has to happen at so many levels, and in so many institutions. It had to happen in every home, in every workplace, in every school, and at a national level. And I think the fight for attention is similar in that way, we have to do it individually, we have to fight in our own lives, and our families and our workplaces to get our attention back. And we have to fight at a national level. So all sorts of extraordinary transformations are possible. That make me think about… I'm gay, right? And, again, when I get pessimistic about this…
Rosalind Dixon: You think about the change that's happened for LGBTQIA plus rights? Yeah.
Johann Hari: Well, I think about, specifically about my friend Andrew Sullivan, who lots of your viewers will know, he's a brilliant British American journalist. And you know, Andrew, in 1994, Andrew was diagnosed as HIV positive at the height of the AIDS crisis, when as far as anyone knew there was no hope in sight, he just watched his best friend, Patrick die of AIDS. And Andrew quit his job, and he went to Provincetown to do one last thing before he died, right? He decided to write a book about a crazy utopian idea that no one had ever written a book advocating. The crazy utopian idea he advocated was gay marriage. And when I feel depressed, I tried to imagine going back in time to 1994 and saying to Andrew, okay, Andrew, you're not gonna believe me, but 26 years from now, you'll be alive, that would have blown his mind. You'll be married to a man, that would have blown his mind. And thirdly, and most importantly, I'll be with you, when the Supreme Court of the United States, quote from this book you're writing, when it makes it mandatory for every state in the United States to introduce gay marriage. And the next day, you'll be invited to a White House lit up in the colours of the rainbow flag, to have dinner with the President to celebrate what you and millions of other people have achieved. Oh, and by the way, that President, he's gonna be black, right? It wouldn't sound like the most insane science fiction, but it happened because enough people banded together and fought for it in a spirit of love. If we can do that. We can rescue our attention, but we're gonna have to fight for it. And we're gonna have to stop blaming ourselves. We are not suffering with our attention, because you're weak, I’m weak, our kids are weak, we're suffering for our attention, because the book is called Stolen Focus, because our focus is being stolen from us. And we can take it back. But we need to realise we are not mediaeval peasants, begging at the court of King Zuckerberg for a few little crumbs of attention from his table. We are the free citizens of democracies, and we own our own minds. And together, we can take them back.
Rosalind Dixon: Well, what better way to end. I think that the call to find ways in our own life to unplug, to have more time for reading, for sleeping, for mind wandering is just so powerful. But I love the idea that the deepest lesson of all is political. And we need to have an attention revolution, or some such political movement to take back the space that we need to have happy and fulfilling lives, and fix the problems of the day. I think you've called us to action, Johann, as well as given us something to make our lives better. Thank you so much for writing this terrific book and for joining us.
Johann Hari: Oh, well thank you so much for, I know sounds like an ironic compliment, but thank you for paying so much attention to the book, and for all your brilliant questions. I really enjoyed this conversation. Thanks so much, cheers.
Rosalind Dixon: Thank you.
UNSW Centre for Ideas: Thanks for listening. For more information visit centrefordeas.com, and don't forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Johann Hari is the author of three New York Times best-selling books, and the Executive Producer of an Oscar-nominated movie and an eight-part TV series starring Samuel L. Jackson. His books have been translated into 38 languages, and been praised by a broad range of people, from Oprah to Noam Chomsky, from Elton John to Naomi Klein. His latest book, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention, published in January 2022, received rave reviews everywhere from the Washington Post to the Irish Times to the Sydney Morning Herald. It has been a best-seller on three continents. Johann’s first book, Chasing the Scream: the First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, was adapted into the Oscar-nominated film The United States Vs Billie Holiday. It has also been adapted into a documentary series which is available to view now. His second book, Lost Connections: Uncovering The Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions was described by the British Journal of General Practice as “one of the most important texts of recent years”, and shortlisted for an award by the British Medical Association.
Rosalind Dixon is a Professor of Law and Director of the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at UNSW Sydney. She is a graduate of UNSW and Harvard, and has taught at law schools around the world – including Harvard, Columbia, University of Chicago and National University Singapore, and is the author of a new book, with Richard Holden, From Free to Fair Markets: Liberalism after COVID out later this year. She is passionate about law and politics, and currently Director of the Pathways to Politics for Women Program at NSW.