Londoner’s Diary: It’s Sweet v Hari round two as critic slams ‘dangerous’ book

Johann Hari   (Getty Images for Politicon)
Johann Hari (Getty Images for Politicon)

BROADCASTER Matthew Sweet has renewed his attacks on Johann Hari’s latest book, telling us it is “irresponsible, inaccurate and dangerous”.

“The headline fact of his book … that ‘teenagers now focus on one task for only 65 seconds’ is bullshit,” said Sweet. “It’s his misinterpretation of the result of a paper he seems not to have even read. If his publishers care about truth, they should withdraw it.”

The book, Stolen Focus, is about attention spans and modern technology.

But Hari hit back today, telling us: “These criticisms are wrong, and anyone who reads the studies involved – as I did in detail while writing ‘Stolen Focus’ – will see that clearly. Concerning the specific study he has queried: I describe it in the book as ‘a small study’, I report its findings accurately, and I use this small study as a powerful introductory example of a wider trend for which there is a great deal of evidence.”

Sweet explained: “I’d already written a piece last year on the myth of the idea of the collective attention span, so I knew the research to which Johann was referring. And then I read the book and saw how he’d misrepresented and misinterpreted it. There are real issues here to be discussed about the inequalities and difficulties of digital culture, but Johann simply can’t be trusted to convey the research in this area accurately.”

Hari’s statement this morning continued: “To name one example, one of the leading experts on the question of what is happening to young adults’ ability to pay attention, Professor Larry Rosen, summarizes years of scientific research when he writes that college students ‘are not able to focus on a single task for more than a few minutes’ when studying. Instead of denying that there is an attention crisis taking place, we should all be listening to the leading experts issuing these warnings and coming together to build solutions to it.”

Publisher Bloomsbury declined to comment. Ding dong.

More electric blues for Coren

Giles Coren (Giles Coren)
Giles Coren (Giles Coren)

GILES COREN’S electric car woes won’t stop. The restaurant critic’s Jaguar I-Pace has been stolen twice in the past year and now he finds he doesn’t have anywhere to charge it. Coren has complained to Camden council about charging issues in Kentish Town. Non-electric cars keep parking in the charging bays on his street while a neighbouring charging point is broken, he says. “This is a wider environmental thing,” he tells the Ham & High, criticising the “rubbish approach to electric charging”. The council says it is consulting on whether to put another charging point on Coren’s road. Will his good deed finally stop being punished?

Writer’s Gilmore Girls odyssey...

Megan Nolan (Megan Nolan)
Megan Nolan (Megan Nolan)

AUTHOR Megan Nolan took herself away to an internet-free apartment in Greece for months to try to finish her debut novel Acts of Desperation, but it wasn’t quite the paradise she had imagined. Writers “dream” of having no distractions, she told an Intelligence Squared event last night, “but obviously it’s not what we truly want, so there were days I was going completely mad”.

In desperation Nolan, left, went to an internet café and asked a pal: “Can you post me a USB with loads of Gilmore Girls on it?” as she had no TV or Netflix. A modern-day food parcel.


MODEL Ikram Abdi Omar went to the JD Malat Gallery in Mayfair last night for a private view. Joshua Kane, Julia Hurley and Mason Smillie were also at Hande Şekerciler’s exhibition. In Knightsbridge, Martha Ward and Sienna Miller’s sister Savannah dined at Holy Carrot to celebrate its partnership with Seaspiracy.


WHILE Sue Gray’s investigation into the Downing Street parties could help decide the PM’s fate, one Tory source whispers to us about the history between her and Simone Finn, Johnson’s deputy chief of staff. When the pair worked at the top of Government at the same time between 2010 and 2015, “Sue and Simone were completely at daggers drawn,” the source explained. “There’s real dislike there.” But they added Gray is “very, very tough” and will come to her own decisions.


BUT The Londoner hears senior Labour strategists are hoping whatever Gray finds, Boris Johnson clings on. A source whispers: “They’re beginning to rub their hands.”