Book Review: “The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption” by Clay Johnson, O’Reilly Media
This page may contain links to Amazon.com or other sites from which I may receive commission on purchases you make after clicking on such links. Read my full Disclosure Policy
Every one of us is inundated with information on a daily basis, and trying to stay on top of it all is a never-ending battle. That’s why I was delighted to learn about the launch of a new book to help us deal with this growing problem.
Frankly, there’s a lot of related advice out there already – much of it including such phrases as “inbox zero” and “social media fast.” As a productivity expert, you may even have covered this topic in your own blog. But for Clay Johnson, the problem goes way beyond the amount of time and energy we spend reading emails, blogs, and social media posts. His concern isn’t just the quantity of information we consume, but the quality.
In the first part of the book, Johnson explains that just as eating highly processed food makes our bodies unhealthy, information that has been contaminated by the personal or political biases of the people sharing it is making our minds unhealthy. There’s also some fascinating historical background demonstrating that the “information explosion” is not something that started in the last 10 to 15 years, but has actually been occurring in stages over thousands of years.
I found the theoretical sections of the book quite eye-opening and well worth reading, but those who are anxious to get started on their information diet can go straight to Part II. Here, in addition to practical advice about scheduling times for consuming specific types of information, Johnson offers guidance for choosing “healthy” information sources that don’t just confirm our existing beliefs, but open our minds to new ideas and help us to focus on things that really matter. His teachings tie in quite well with the TED video of Eli Pariser I saw earlier this year, with many references made to Pariser’s book, The Filter Bubble. (On a side note, one of the other books which Johnson recommends is Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, which has been sitting unread on my bookshelf for well over a year!)
I was so eager to begin my information diet that I began making changes to my daily routines even before I finished reading the book, and intend to continue fine-tuning them in the weeks and months to come. I’m hoping that those of you who follow me on Twitter or other social media sites will find that my new habits help me to share even better information than before, but just as you can’t switch from being a “junk food junkie” to a “health food nut” overnight, it will be a work in progress. 🙂
Being neither American nor politically inclined, the frequent references to American politics weren’t really up my alley. On the other hand, I now feel better equipped to filter through the B.S. and understand the connection between politics and my role in society, and that’s quite an accomplishment.
In summary, I read The Information Diet to get some tips for remaining “smart, productive, and sane” (as described on the publisher’s website) and came away with even more than I bargained for. I highly recommend it if you find yourself overwhelmed by the constant flow of information or advising clients who struggle with this issue.