Fast Forward

I’m noshing my way through Johann Hari’s new release, Stolen Focus. This is a work of non-fiction that examines the attention economy, and what has happened to our ability to focus our minds in the directions of our choosing. Hari left mainstream journalism in disgrace more than ten years ago (he trolled competitors’ Wiki biographies), and appears to have learned his lesson. His books are punctiliously documented, well thought-out, and wonderfully readable.

One of the studies he cites early in the discussion is an investigation into the question: Is it just me, or are humans generally having a harder time paying attention to anything for meaningful periods of time?

Apparently, it’s not just me. (Is that good news or bad news?)

Smart folks took a look through the way-back machine to Google searches over the past twenty years, Twitter hashtags, Facebook topics and so forth. They were looking at how long a topic remained of interest. In just twenty years, the lifespan of a “trend” has shortened considerably. If you go back further, through newspapers, magazines, or books, to about 1800, the acceleration is apparent even 100 years ago.

The factor most closely related to how long we focus on a topic is… how many other stories are coming at us at the same time. The more newspapers on offer, the more books published, the more posts on Facebook, the less we drill down into any of them. Our little hunter-gatherer brains have only so much bandwidth, and we can cast a wide attentional net or a deep one, but not both.

There’s much more to the discussion (about which you will probably hear in subsequent blog posts), but I was inspired to think about what content I choose to consume. I’m mighty fussy about what I feed my mind, permitting myself one excursion onto Facebook daily, and then mostly for author purposes. I do subscribe to a few newsletters.

Dense Discovery is a short take on graphic design and architecture in an age of climate change and big tech. I don’t know anything about that stuff, and I learn a lot from the linked material.

Nick Kolenda’s newsletter focuses on the intersection of psychology and marketing. The myriad ways Wall Street manipulates us fascinate (and horrify) me.

Austin Kleon calls himself “a writer who draws,” but he also learns voraciously about creativity in many media and is generous with recommendations.

Matt Clifford’s Thoughts in Between focuses on tech, public policy, and economics (about which I also know nothing), and also includes random links to interesting research. (Male hunter gatherers socialize more than their female counterparts, and work less, but both groups do nothing way more than modern cultures, and men and women in hunter gatherer cultures tend to do equal amounts of nothing.)

I notice that no women number among my newsletter sources, and I’d like to change that. In the great sea of material clamoring for our attention do you have any go-to sources for information? I’m not talking about news media (we could go on and on about that I’m sure), but rather for mental stimulation and education.

To two commenters, I will send signed print copies of Never a Duke. (C’mon, Tuesday!)



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21 comments on “Fast Forward

  1. The 19th is solid longish format reporting I appreciate. Heather Cox Richardson daily free substack on US history and similarities today is another source I appreciate. Your Neighborhood Epidemiologist is another free substack that helps me navigate the pandemic with solid facts and no drama.
    Dense Discovery is a favorite too.
    Some rough attention days I put my phone on airplane mode to just read on the library apps. If my attention wanders the cats will soak it up, not the internet.

  2. I don’t go and seek out anything in particular,I come across articles,items in books,films,television,speaking to interesting people especially if they are well travelled.I have attended talks on travels far and wide and listened with fascination when missionaries explain how many tons of wheat feed the starving.I enjoy history and recently saw a programme that presented a different account that happened in the battle of Hastings 1066.A significant event in British history turned upside down.I also came across the strange love life of one of our river fish that held my attention for ages.My attention is held by anything not always the obvious.I enjoy the odd,the crazy,I can stare at the screen watching a guy digging in the earth for ages searching for thousand year remains.I can’t hold my attention longer than five minutes when our leader Boris Johnson speaks.So I’m selective when it comes to staying power.Varied and sometimes fascinating keeps me stimulated and interested.

  3. I have turned down my news consumption in the last few years (around 2017), not getting my info from Facebook or Twitter, heavens to Betsy! I occasionally watch cable news but not regularly but I do watch the PBS Newhour every chance I get. On Mondays and Fridays they have two sets of political commenters I respect (on Friday, one writes commentary for the New York Times and the other the Washington Post). It’s refreshing to hear folks agree and DISAGREE respectfully and it’s always very civil. NewHour also have art features often so that’s interesting.

    Have a great week, Grace!

  4. I receive a lot of newsletters, and had not noticed how few are from women. 🙁 One of my favorites is from Heather Cox Richardson. Others are from the Atlantic, AllSides, the Economist and others – it’s a good way to keep up with what is going on from different points of view.

    I want to mention a weekly newsletter from Chaplain Norris Burkes, whose ministry before he retired was attending the dying. It’s both funny and thought-provoking. He also advocates for this group that promotes literacy for girls in Nicaragua:

    His daughter worked there for a while, not sure if she still does. He has occasionally gotten groups of volunteers to go to work on projects there.

  5. I second the 19th, both for their own articles and the links. As a non-sporty middle aged lady, I am somewhat surprised at how much I get out of Just Women’s Sports, but I learn a lot about the expected topics (sports, athletes, fight for equal pay, the building of women’s professional sports leagues [yay hockey!] etc) but there is usually an issue or tangent that I’m left thinking about differently or something I didn’t know about at all, that surprises me.

    Not a women’s newsletter, but I love the MIT newsletter. All the research and ideas I would not interact with otherwise. Often at least one fascinating thing.

  6. I am a fan of Brene’ Brown for emotional connection support. I turn to family and friends which defies passing on for your use. I think finding a woman physician to offer body perspective when you need it. Someone who understands the animal/person connection, don’t you think? The person on top of my list for aging perspective is male; Atul Gawanda.

  7. There are so many more things that I’d like to read than I have time for! I find I have to prune my online reading more vigorously than I’d like in order to be able to get through what I have lined up to read, and even then my eyes are bigger than my (reading) stomach.

    No need to enter me in the drawing< Grace, I've already read the digital ARC. Cheers!

  8. It turns out that almost all my newsletters, the one blog (Smart Bitches Trashy Books) and the few Facebook posts I look at once daily, are romance-related. However, I learn a lot from the things you/they/other readers talk about and end up checking out some very diverse subjects as a result. Of course, since I began reading romance novels back in the 1990s, then watched a PBS show about Vikings in which I discovered something I had read in the romance novel was actually true (Vikings and farming and how they treated their animals), I realize I have learned so much from reading romance. I learn not only about people and emotions but also historical facts! It’s a wonderful genre! But, unfortunately, I cannot recommend anything specific for you.

  9. I wish I could suggest a woman’s newsletter other than authors – not all of them romance authors. I’m mostly subscribed to author newsletters with several news daily emails.

    As far as attention spans go. I noticed that my kids had much longer attention spans when they were younger. My daughter acknowledges that her attention span got much shorter after she started spending more time on social media.

    Tuesday can’t get here fast enough!

  10. My daughter carves out time to read the blog posts on, a fashion oriented blog for professional women. She keeps up with her industry (skin care) through newsletters, blogs and instagram, as well. I expect we all do that first.

    I read Grace Burrowes! She curates some of my rabbit holes!

  11. I hesitated before even glancing QUICKLY at the other comments because I spend far too much time as it is reading the many newsletters I subscribe too. I follow Heather Cox Richardson on social media but am resisting even looking at her newsletter because, again, time!! I still enjoy my daily dose of Smart Bitches, sometimes read the Word Wenches, the Jungle Red Writers, and try to resist clicking through too many of the Medium articles. Then of course, there are the newsletters from WAPO, the NYT, and others, where I do, indeed, often find mental stimulation and education!

  12. My trusted source won’t help anyone else out but I thought I’d mention it anyway. About 8 years ago in a political group on a social media platform a number of women began to talk in a private group. I was fortunate to be one of them. What began as a conversation has become a private group of our own numbering only 74 women & 6 men. While we also share our day to day activities, triumphs and tribulations we also contributed newsworthy articles from newspapers, magazines, journals etc. But each article must be researched and verified by the contributor.

    The truth for us is we only trust each other in this time of yellow journalism, hate and lies that many toss about. We also share a great many things in this group and we have found our hearts are more open and we feel closer to each other even though few of us have ever met in person.

    I compare it to my grandmother’s quilting group she was part of in the early 1900s. Women came together to share their talent, lives and hearts.

  13. OMG!!!! I just finished Never a Duke! LOVED, LOVED Ned’s story! I waited so long to read it. It was worth the wait. Quick question. The gentleman who warned him about Rosalind when she was abducted, was that Robert Taylor his long lost brother (whom he thought was dead?) I keep going back to that, because Ned thought there was something familiar about him but couldn’t put his finger to it. I do love a HEA. What to read next, What to read next???? The choices are endless. Thank you so much Mrs. Burrowes for your talent for storytelling, I so appreciated it.

      • Omg, how awesome! Now harm with this knowledge I have to go back and read that passage. Until I can do a total re-read. I got the BEST surprise this afternoon with my next read, an early copy of Miss Desirable! I feel like its Christmas in May! Thank you so much Mrs. Burrowes its the best unexpected gift ever. Jumping right in. Please stay tune for update.

  14. Grace Burrowes never miss! The laughter, the tears, the conversation… I absolutely love this book. What a treat! I love the main characters, but I also loved catching up with my favorite family the Dornings. I remember Catherine from a previous book a little bit because of the violet eyes, now I have to go back and read it to make sure. Xavier Fournier and Catherine Fairchild what an amazing couple. I was rooting for them from the get-go. I always thought Fournier was misunderstood from previous books. I love how the other guys like Goddard, McKay and Alasdair became friends with Fournier, I wanted that for him. Sycamore was a given, he’s one of my favorite Dorning. With this story I laughed, cried, and wanted to do violence, to me that’s a sign of a great book. The villain in this book got exactly what he deserved even if there was no bloodshed (lol). Sometimes you can kill someone with the “cut direct”. With this book I have made up my mind about my summer reading list a total re-read of my favorite families, with the Dornings on the top, closely followed by the rogues to riches series, mischief in Mayfair …. I am going to be knee deep in Dukes and Duchess. What fun! Don’t get me started on the Wyndham, so many books so little time.