The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption

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"O'Reilly Media, Inc.", Dec 14, 2011 - Computers - 150 pages
2 Reviews

The modern human animal spends upwards of 11 hours out of every 24 in a state of constant consumption. Not eating, but gorging on information ceaselessly spewed from the screens and speakers we hold dear. Just as we have grown morbidly obese on sugar, fat, and flour—so, too, have we become gluttons for texts, instant messages, emails, RSS feeds, downloads, videos, status updates, and tweets.

We're all battling a storm of distractions, buffeted with notifications and tempted by tasty tidbits of information. And just as too much junk food can lead to obesity, too much junk information can lead to cluelessness. The Information Diet shows you how to thrive in this information glut—what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective. In the process, author Clay Johnson explains the role information has played throughout history, and why following his prescribed diet is essential for everyone who strives to be smart, productive, and sane.

In The Information Diet, you will:

  • Discover why eminent scholars are worried about our state of attention and general intelligence
  • Examine how today’s media—Big Info—give us exactly what we want: content that confirms our beliefs
  • Learn to take steps to develop data literacy, attention fitness, and a healthy sense of humor
  • Become engaged in the economics of information by learning how to reward good information providers
  • Just like a normal, healthy food diet, The Information Diet is not about consuming less—it’s about finding a healthy balance that works for you

    What people are saying - Write a review

    User Review - Flag as inappropriate

    Wow this was a GREAT read - an original, imaginative, wide-ranging critique of our current relationship with information. I loved the part that explained the rancorous political divisions in our culture -- and also this: (p.99):
    "In their book Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind ... [the authors] provide a cognitive & evolutionary perspective for our sense of humor.
    "They argue that humor could be a cognitive cleanup mechanism of the mind, that nature needed a way for us to constantly check our judgmental heuristics, & reward oursevles for seeking the unexpected. They stipulate that laughter itelf is a social signal that demonstrates cognitive prowess -- something that's useful in mate selection -- and thus, our ability to laugh spread through generations."
    I loved the whole thing - it was a bit repetitive at the beginning, but then got blissfully wacky towards the end where he issues a call for more developers to run for congress. No, really!

    User Review - Flag as inappropriate

    We all know a diet of fast food can cause obesity, but can consuming junk information damage our mental fitness and critical faculties?
    The Information Diet is based upon a simple premise, that
    just as balanced food diet is important for physical health so too is a diverse intake of news and information necessary for a healthy understanding of the world.
    Clay A. Johnson’s The Information Diet builds he case for being more selective in what we read, watch and listen to. In it, Clay describes how we have reached the stage of intellectual obesity, what constitutes a poor diet and suggests strategies to improve the quality of the information we consume.
    Clay A. Johnson came to this view after seeing a protestor holding up a placard reading “Keep your government hands off my Medicare.” Could an unbalanced information diet cause a kind of intellectual obesity that warps otherwise intelligent peoples’ perspectives?
    The analogy is well explored by Clay as he looks at how we can go about creating a form of “infoveganism” that favours selecting information that comes as close from the source as possible.
    Just as fast food replaces fibre and nutrients with fat, sugars and salt to appeal to our tastes, media organisations process information to appeal to our own perceived biases and beliefs.
    Clay doesn’t just accuse the right wing of politics in this – he is as scathing of those who consider the DailyKos, Huffington Post or Keith Olbermann as their primary sources as those who do likewise with Fox News or Bill O’Reilly.
    The rise of opinion driven media – something that pre-dates the web – has been because the industrial production of processed information is quicker and more profitable that the higher cost, slower alternatives; which is the same reason for the rise of the fast food industry.
    For society, this has meant our political discourse has become flabbier as voters base decisions and opinions upon information that has had the facts and reality processed out of it in an attempt to attract eyeballs and paying advertisers.
    In many ways, Clay has identified the fundamental problem facing mass media today; as the advertising driven model requires viewers’ and readers’ attention, producers and editors are forced to become more sensationalist and selective. This in turn is damaging the credibility of these outlets.
    Unspoken in Clay’s book is the challenge for traditional media –their processing of information has long since stopped adding value and now strips out the useful data, at best dumbing down the news into a “he said, she said” argument and at worse deliberately distorting events to attract an audience.
    While traditional media is suffering from its own “filter failure”, the new media information empires of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon are developing even stronger feedback loops as our own friends on social media filter the news rather than a newsroom editor or producer.
    As our primary sources of information have become more filtered and processed, societal and political structures have themselves become flabby and obese. Clay describes how the skills required to be elected in such a system almost certainly exclude those best suited to lead a diverse democracy and economy.
    Clay’s strategies for improving the quality of the information we consume are basic, obvious and clever. The book is a valuable look at how we can equip ourselves to deal with the flood of data we call have to deal with every day.
    Probably the most important message from The Information Diet is that we need to identify our biases, challenge our beliefs and look outside the boxes we’ve chosen for ourselves. Doing that will help us deal with the opportunities of the 21st Century.


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    About the author (2011)

    Clay Johnson is best known as the founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Barack Obama's online campaign for the presidency in 2008. After leaving Blue State, Johnson was the director of Sunlight Labs at the Sunlight Foundation, where he built an army of 2000 developers and designers to build open source tools to give people greater access to government data. He was awarded the Google/O'Reilly Open Source Organizer of the year in 2009, was one of Federal Computer Week's Fed 100 in 2010.

    The range of Johnson's experience with software development, politics, entrepreneurism, and working with non-profits gives him a unique perspective on media and culture. His life is dedicated to giving people greater access to the truth about what's going on in their communities, their cities, and their governments.

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