Interviews

The audio for all the quotes in the book have been posted here, so you can listen along as you read the book. As I note in the book, with almost all the scientists I interviewed, I sent the quotes I used from them in the book, and in a few instances they asked to clarify what they said to make it more scientifically precise and accurate. Where there is a small difference between the quote in the book and the quote you can hear here, it’s for that reason.

 


INTRODUCTION

Professor Roy Baumeister – author of the book ‘Willpower’ – talks about his own increasing struggle to focus. We were talking in London:

 

Professor Joel Nigg talks about the obesity epidemic and how it might have a parallel in the attention crisis. We were talking in Portland, Oregon:

 

Professor Nigg asks if we are now developing “an attentional pathogenic culture.”:

 

Professor Nigg responds to another question about this:

 

Dr James Williams – former Google engineer – talks about why we need to be able to focus. We were talking in Moscow, Russia:

 

CHAPTER ONE

Professor Sune Lehmannn talks about his own attention problems, which led to his groundbreaking scientific research on this topic. We were talking in Copenhagen, Denmark:

 

Professor Lehmannn discusses this more:

More from Professor Lehmann:

 

Professor Lehmann discusses the nature of his ground-breaking research:

 

Professor Lehmann explains the nature of the speeding up we are experiencing:

 

Professor Lehmann gives a metaphor for what’s happening to us:

 

Professor Lehmann discusses how speed makes us feel:

 

Professor Lehmann talks about what we lose when we go too fast:

 

Professor Lehmann talks about the limits to how much we can speed up:

 

Professor Lehmann talks about one possible future:

 

Professor Lehmann talks about the changes in his own life:

 

Professor Guy Claxton discusses our cognitive limits. We were talking in Sussex in England:

 

Professor Earl Miller talks about our cognitive capacities. We were talking in Cambridge, Massachusetts:

 

Professor Miller talks about switching and multitasking and what happens in our brains when we try to do this:

 

Professor Miller talks about how we have created “a perfect storm of cognitive degradation.”:

 

He continues:

 

Professor Miller talks about what we can do now:

 

Professor Miller compares the brain to a muscle:

 

Professor Miller says you can’t mono task by force of will:

 

Professor Adam Gazzalley compares one part of our brains to a bouncer. We were talking in San Francisco:

 

Professor Gazzalley talks about our limitations:

[/audio]

 

CHAPTER TWO

Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about his childhood. We were talking in Claremont, California:

 

Professor Csikszentmihalyi discusses his childhood more:

 

Professor Csikszentmihalyi continues:

 

Professor Roy Baumeister explains some aspects of focus. We were talking in London:

 

He adds:

Professor Csikszentmihalyi explains some key aspects of flow:

 

CHAPTER THREE

Dr Charles Czeisler explains how sleep was thought about in the past. We were talking at Harvard Medical School:

 

Dr Czeisler explains how lacking sleep affects attention:

 

Dr Czeisler explains more about this (we were talking on the phone):

 

Dr Czeisler explains, on the phone, how we are chronically sleep-depriving our kids:

 

Professor Roxanne Prichard discusses how exhausted we are. We were talking in Minneapolis:

 

Professor Prichard explains some of the effects of this:

 

Professor Prichard explains how exhaustion has been normalised:

 

Professor Prichard explains how sleep affects reaction times:

 

Professor Prichard explains more:

 

Dr Czeisler explains, on the phone, how missing a few hours’ sleep a night impairs you profoundly:

 

Professor Prichard explains how if you don’t sleep well, your body interprets it as an emergency:

 

Professor Xavier Castellanos discusses the effect of sleep on memory. We were talking in New York City:

 

Dr Prichard talks about caffeine:

 

Dr Sandra Kooj talked about the effects of sleep deprivation on attention. We were talking in the Hague in the Netherlands:

 

Professor Prichard explains the mysterious nature of sleep:

 

Professor Prichard explains some of what happens in the brain during sleep:

 

Professor Prichard explains one of the key functions of sleep:

 

Dr Czeisler explains that the prefrontal cortex is particularly sensitive to sleep loss:

 

Professor Tore Nielsen explains his job. We were talking in Montreal, Canada:

 

Professor Nielsen discusses the need for REM sleep:

 

Professor Prichard talks about why chemically induced sleep is not the same as natural sleep. The audio here differs slightly from the quote in the book because she asked me to slightly change it to make it more scientifically accurate:

 

Professor Prichard talks more about chemically induced sleep:

 

And she explains more here:

 

And more here:

 

Dr Czeisler explains another reason why we struggle to sleep:

 

Dr Czeisler talks about sleep deprivation and children:

 

He continues:

 

Professor Prichard talks about our relationships with our phones:

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Professor Anne Mangen talks about how we read differently on screens. We were talking via Zoom:

 

Professor Mangen explains more about this:

 

Professor Mangen explains some of the implications:

 

Professor Raymond Marr explains the nature of reading as a form of attention. We were talking in Toronto, Canada:

 

Professor Marr explains what we do when we read complex fiction:

 

Professor Marr discusses this more:

 

CHAPTER FIVE

Professor Marcus Raichle talks about day-dreaming. I went to interview him at his office in St Louis, Missouri but due to an administrative error he was away and we had to do it on the phone:

 

Professor Marcus Raichle talks about how people used to think about the brain:

 

Professor Jonathan Smallwood discusses what we do when we are reading. We were in York in England when we had this conversation:

 

Professor Smallwood explains more:

 

Professor Nathan Spreng explains important aspects of creativity. We were in Montreal in Canada when we had this conversation:

 

Professor Spreng explains more:

 

Professor Spreng explains more about attention:

 

Professor Spreng explains how learning this led to personal changes for him:

 

Professor Reichle explains more about the need for mind-wandering:

 

Professor Spreng explains how digital interruption is regarding our thinking:

 

Professor Reichle offers the symphony orchestra as a metaphor for thinking:

 

CHAPTER SIX

Dr Williams argues against digital detoxes as an enduring solution:

 

Dr Williams argues for a deeper solution:

 

The magician James Brown explains a magic trick to me. We were speaking in London:

 

Tristan Harris explains magic. We spoke in San Francisco and via Zoom and phone. The quotes here are from a range of those conversations:

 

Mr Harris discovers studying at the Persuasive Technologies Lab at Stanford:

 

And more:

 

Mr Harris discusses his work at Google:

 

Mr Harris discovers being freaked out by a class at Stanford:

 

Mr Harris discusses how things look even worse from inside the tech industry:

 

Mr Harris discusses his time at Google:

 

Mr Harris talks about a frightening change he saw happen:

 

Mr Harris talks about Instagram:

 

Mr Harris talks about the importance of how we design technology:

 

Aza Raskin discusses the role of technology. We were talking on the phone:

 

Aza Raskin explains infinite scroll:

 

Mr Raskin discusses further:

 

Mr Raskin explains the problem:

 

Mr Raskin explains his deepest concern:

 

He explains further:

 

He discusses how the logic seems to take over everything in Silicon Valley:

 

He explains the incentives driving Silicon Valley:

 

He gives a powerful metaphor for what has happened:

 

He explains how many people have been disturbed by these changes:

 

He explains the irony of mindfulness workshops at Facebook and Google:

 

Dr Williams explains a key moment at a tech conference:

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

Mr Raskin explains how surveillance capitalism works:

 

Mr Raskin explains the significance of this:

 

Mr Harris explains the economic logic of Facebook’s current business model:

 

He discusses further:

 

He explains more:

 

He continues:

 

He talks about the “fracking” of attention:

 

He talks about the polarisation this causes:

 

He talks about how these algorithms are debasing the soil of society:

 

Dr Williams gives a powerful analogy:

 

Mr Harris calls this “human downgrading”:

 

Mr Raskin says we are “reverse-engineering ourselves.”:

 

Mr Raskin assesses the effects:

 

He continues:

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

I interviewed Nir Eyal in depth and because it is one of the few contentious interviews in the book, I am posting the full audio here on the website so people can hear Nir’s responses in full. I have trimmed out one section to protect the privacy of a relative of mine and of one other person:

 

Professor Ronald Purser critiques “cruel optimism.”:

 

Professor Purser explains the problem with this approach:

 

CHAPTER NINE

Mr Raskin explains the idea of banning surveillance capitalism:

 

Mr Raskin explains what would happen next if we banned surveillance capitalism:

 

He discusses further:

 

He discusses other possible changes:

 

He continues:

 

He explains the advantages of this:

 

He continues:

 

He talks about how these technologies might become more invasive if they aren’t regulated:

 

He continues:

 

Jaron Lanier offers a chilling insight. We were talking in Berkeley, California:

 

Dr Williams explains reform is possible:

 

CHAPTER TEN

Dr Nadine Burke-Harris talks about an experience with her patients. In the clips with Nadine, there are some blanks to maintain the confidentiality of her patients. We had this conversation in San Francisco:

 

Dr Burke-Harris explains hypervigilance:

 

Dr Jon Jureidini explains more about hypervigilance. We had this conversation in Adelaide, Australia:

 

Dr Burke Harris explains trauma and hypervigilance:

 

Dr Juredini explains the risks of medicating traumatised children. The other voice you can hear here is Dr Melissa Raven:

 

Inga Marthe Thorkildsen explains a horrific child abuse case she dealt with. We had this conversation in Oslo, Norway:

 

Dr Burke Harris recounts what she explains to parents of traumatised children who can’t focus:

 

Dr Burke Harris explains more:

 

Dr Burke Harris explains the potential of these children:

 

Dr Burke Harris explains an important Buddhist saying:

 

Dr Burke Harris explains the effects of giving parents and kids a different way to think about these problems:

 

Professor Olavi Kangas is a Finnish researcher who looked at the effects of a guaranteed basic income on attention. We talked via zoom. Here he talks about that study:

 

Professor Signe Jauhianen is a Finnish researcher who looked at the effects of a guaranteed basic income on attention. We talked via zoom. She talks about the effects of financial anxiety on attention:

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Andrew Barnes talks about his twenties. We were talking in Auckland, New Zealand:

Amber Taare explains how she reacted when she heard her company was going to a four-day working week. We were talking in Rotorua, New Zealand:

 

Gemma Mills talks about the four day week at her workplace. We were also talking in Rotorua, New Zealand:

 

Andrew Barnes discusses the reaction of his staff:

 

Russell Bridge talks about the move to a four day week. We were talking in Rotorua, New Zealand:

 

Gemma talks about the effects:

 

Russell talks about how his life changed:

 

Gemma explains more:

 

Dr Helen Delaney studied this change. We talked via zoom:

 

Dr Delaney explains more:

 

Dr Delaney continues:

 

Andrew Barnes explains more:

 

Gemma explains more:

 

Jeffrey Pfeffer discusses why exhausted workers produce less valuable work. We were talking in Stanford, California:

 

Andrew Barnes discusses covid. We were talking here via Zoom:

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

Professor Stephen Hinshaw talks about genetics and ADHD. We were talking in Berkeley, California:

 

Dr Nicholas Dodman talks about cribbing in horses. We were talking in Massachussetts:

 

Dr Nicholas Dodman talks about why horses in the wild don’t do this:

 

Dr Nicholas Dodman talks about the value and limits of drugs for animals in situations like this:

 

I discussed this further with Professor Dodman:

 

Dr Sami Timimi talks about his work as a child psychiatrist. I interviewed him in Lincoln, England, and in Birmingham, England, and by Zoom. These clips come from all three:

 

Dr Sami Timimi talks about how children respond to press and disappointment:

 

Dr Timimi talks about ADHD:

 

Professor Alan Sroufe talks about context and ADHD. We talked in Minneapolis and via Zoom:

 

Professor Sroufe explains more:

 

Professor Sroufe continues:

 

Dr Nadine Ezard discusses prescribing stimulants to people addicted to methamphetamine. We were talking in Sydney, Australia:

 

Dr Timimi continues:

 

Professor James Li discusses the long-term effects of prescribing stimulant drugs. We were talking in Madison, Wisconsin:

 

Professor Li continues:

 

Professor Xavier Castellanos explains other aspects of the science surrounding stimulant prescription:

 

Dr Czeiseler explains his perspective on prescribing stimulants to children. We were talking at Harvard Medical School:

Jay Joseph discusses some of the problems with twin studies. We were talking via Zoom:

Mr Joseph continues:

 

He explains more:

Professor Sroufe discusses the role of genes in attention problems:

 

Professor Joel Nigg discusses the role of genetics in attention problems. As above, the words in the audio differ slightly from the words in the book because Professor Nigg asked to slightly rephrase them to make them more scientifically accurate:

 

Professor Joel Nigg explains how he sees his role:

 

Professor Nigg suggests we see these problems in a wider context:

 

Professor Nigg offers a metaphor for this:

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Dale Pinnock talks about the role between attention problems and the way we eat. We were talking in London:

 

Mr Pinnock elaborates:

 

Mr Pinnock continues:

 

Mr Pinnock discusses blood sugar crashes:

 

Mr Pinnock explains more:

 

Mr Pinnock relates this to children’s diets:

 

Dr Drew Ramsey discusses the relationship between attention and diet. We were talking in New York City:

 

Dale talks about what unites all successful ways of eating:

 

Dr Umadevi Naidoo talks about the connection between diet and children’s attention problems. We were talking in Cambridge, Massachussets:

 

Dr Barbara Demeneix talks about the relationship between pollution and attention. We were talking via Zoom:

 

Professor Bruce discusses correlations between ADHD diagnoses and exposure to pollutants. We were talking in Horseshoe Bay, Canada:

 

Dr Barbara Maher discusses the role of pollution in attention problems. We were talking via Zoom:

 

Dr Maher explains more:

 

Dr Maher explains further:

 

Dr Demeneix explains endocrine disruption and how it might be affecting human attention:

 

Dr Demeneix discusses pollutants we are all currently exposed to:

 

Dr Demeneix explains further:

 

Dr Demeneix explains that at an individual level we can’t escape this:

 

Professor Bruce Lanphear discusses the connection between pollutants and attention problems. We were talking in Horseshoe Bay in Canada:

 

Professor Lanphear explains further:

 

Dr Demeneix explains why this is an urgent issue:

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Lenore Skenazy discusses how people reacted to her giving her child a small amount of freedom. My conversations with Lenore happened in New York City, on Long Island, and via Zoom:

 

Ms Skenazy explains more:

 

Ms Skenazy continues:

 

Ms Skenazy explains how attitudes towards motherhood have changed:

 

Ms Skenazy explains how new and unusual our ideas about childhood are:

 

Ms Skenazy explains what children learn when they play:

 

Dr Isabel Behncke explains the role of play in children’s development. We were talking in Edinburgh in Scotland:

 

Ms Skenazy explains what are kids are missing out on:

 

Ms Skenazy explains further:

 

Dr Behncke explains why cutting out play is a disaster:

 

Ms Skenazy explains her thoughts about how we learn focus:

 

Ms Skenazy discusses how she talks to parents about this:

 

She continues:

 

Donna Verbeck is a teacher on Long Island and explains being disconcerted by seeing children who didn’t know how to play:

 

Thomas Payton is a junior school principal on Long Island. He discusses how common Donna’s observations are:

Ms Verbeck explains a success story. I have blanked out the child’s name in this audio to protect his confidentiality:

 

Gary Karlson is a teacher at the same school. He discusses a success story:

 

Ms Skenazy discusses success stories. The quote here is slightly different from the one in the book because Lenore asked to clarify her words a little:

 

Jodi Maurici is a teacher at a high school on Long Island. She explains her experiences of the Let Grow project:

 

Ms Skenazy explains more. Again, this quote is slightly different to the one in the book because Lenore asked to clarify her words:

 

Professor Peter Gray discusses progressive education and its outcomes. We were talking in Massachussets:

 

Ms Skenazy explains a key mistake we are making:

 

CONCLUSION

Dr James Williams explains three different kinds of attention. We were talking in Moscow:

 

Dr Williams gives an analogy for the attention problems we are facing:

 

Naomi Klein explains the “Screen New Deal” thrust on us during Covid. We were talking by phone:

 

Ben Stewart discusses our attention crisis. We were talking in London:

 

Mr Stewart explains ways of resisting the forces invading our attention:

 

He continues:

 

He explains more:

 

He continues:

 

We discuss what to call this form of resistance:

 

Dr Jason Hickel discusses economic growth and the alternatives. We were talking in London: