Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Information Diet

I am so convinced the way we consume information is terrible for us that Clay Johnson had me on his side just by choosing to write a book on this subject - The Information Diet. Given my bias, I don't know that I can be the most dispassionate and objective reviewer. Ironically, I might be going exactly what Johnson cautions the reader against when it comes to consuming information - taking affirmation over information. That said, I highly recommend this book to believer and non-believer alike. If you consider that the filter bubble Google, Facebook et al are creating for us is in our best interest, this book is for you. If you want to break free, assert your autonomy and consume information in the raw sans spin, filter, churn or bias, this book is for you.
Johnson starts by describing his background and credentials for writing this book. He goes on to draw parallels between an unhealthy diet and its effects to the human body to lack of deliberation and consciousness in consuming information and its effects on our minds. Simply stated, Johnson wants us to evaluate our relationship with information consumption and get on a fitness regimen so we can work ourselves out of our mental obesity. He paraphrases Micheal Pollan's exhortation on diet "Eat. Not too much.Mostly plants" as "Consume Deliberately. Take information over affirmation"
Johnson recommends an Infovegan lifestyle to combat Information Obesity. It involves " mastering data literacy - knowing where to get appropriate data, and knowing what to do with it, using the right kinds of tools. It means making sure you're not put into situations where you situations where you're forced to consume overly processed information"
I could not completely agree with the Information Diet that Johnson recommends for a few reasons. Cancelling cable or satellite TV is great but to I am not sure that the best replacement is a combination of Youtube, Hulu and Netflix. Navigating them is an art and science that most of us are not well-versed in. While we may be in the driver's seat in consuming information, we may not be able to direct ourselves optimally. As such, we may become malnourished through our information diet. There is value is listening to talking heads on television. If they are in the business of churnalism and agnotology (I learned both words from this book), there is value in subjecting ourselves to both in low doses so we remain inoculated. 
I do agree with the idea of incorporating diversity into the information sources you consume from. I read Eli Pariser's The Filter Bubble recently and have become even more deliberate than I was before about avoiding personalization. I love Johnson's examples of websites that do a terrific job of being information synthesizers. He names Khan Academy, TED and Kickstarter ( I was not aware of this one)
Even if you do not agree with the prescription, this book will make you think about information consumption, educate you on the research in this field and prompt you to take control of that diet.

1 comment:

oneandonly said...

I read few initial pages. I am very surprised by author's nitpicking. According to the author if someone writes "Enlist here to die for Haliburton" at the gates of an Army Hospital, that person is ignorant - because no one comes to Army hospital for enrolling to Army.

That could have been written by a frustrated soldier.
Even if it was written by an outsider, it's ok. Because venue of the protest need not be same as the venue of wrongdoing. According to me this is plain nitpicking.

Will try to read further and come back.