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The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious…
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The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption (edition 2012)

by Clay A. Johnson

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2182853,416 (3.09)14
terriko's review
I expected the diet metaphor to get strained, but it actually worked better than I expected: consume less-processed information just like you consume less-processed food, and don't consume mindlessly and continuously. The author's approach to dealing with information "obesity" isn't the standard reactionary "Get off the internet! Go play outside!" but a more nuanced look at how to consume better information rather than just less. I particularly liked the looks into why headlines are terrible (overdone and outright false headlines get clicks, clicks = money), and how using your friends to filter information can result in a dangerously narrow point of view. I was less thrilled about how much of the examples were very American politics oriented, but obviously the author has to write from what he knows. And politics in America does provide some interesting examples of over-information warfare, as it were.

What's most striking about this book to me aren't the ideas, though (as a research scientist, going to the source and avoiding "junk" information is already part of my daily routine), but the fact that it's a life-hacking book that doesn't suffer from extreme bloat where the author repeats himself endlessly for 300+ pages. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given the topic, that the author would be able to write succinctly, but after my experience trying to read volumes like The 4-Hour Workweek or Getting Things Done, this brevity and ability to get the point across in a nice slim volume were much appreciated. ( )
  terriko | Apr 28, 2012 |
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This could have been a great book. Unfortunately, the shallow treatment of the subject, the weak citations of often secondary or tertiary sources, and the failure of call to arms to utilize some of the most important components of digital literacy (librarians and other information pros as guides for literacy, for example) really killed the good mojo.

I think he also failed, in a big way to remind those who already have or want to have good information diets to become resources themselves by volunteering with their local officials to help them with their own information diets. Newly elected officials may find that they need help organizing or synthesizing the information they now encounter.

I was disappointed that his emphasis lay with the larger urban settings in many contexts. I also found myself wishing he used more seminal works in the field of neuroscience, information science, and learning. There are still good nuggets of information here, it just failed to live up to the hype for me. ( )
  Chris_Bulin | Feb 11, 2014 |
A somewhat lengthy discussion on the ideas of 'information overload', and how the glut of the new forms of passive media (TV, the internet) allow people to unconsciously follow those sources which confirm their biases.

Therefore, what is necessary is to limit overexposure and overwork, and follow a good balance of sources in order to prevent distortion of your point of view, and make sure to critically analyze the sources of your information (including book reviews).

Seems a bit obvious and lengthy (perhaps it should be article-length), but the author does use a neat metaphor to describe it all. Think of information as a diet. Don't take in too much, do some exercise, make sure what you take in is good. Simple as that. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
The Information Diet is a strong analysis of the problems with our information consumption that falters as it seeks to find a solution. The book is built around a central metaphor: our problems with information are like our problems with obesity in that, like with food, it's not a matter of consuming too much but a matter of consuming too much that is low-quality, nutritionally-empty, but cheap and "tasty." In this case, this information equivalent of junk food is fear-mongering and affirmation that we are right. It's a solid metaphor on the whole, but Johnson often takes it too seriously. As he puts it, "this isn't just a fancy metaphor. It's real." (7) The problem is that it is a metaphor, even a good one, which means that he should be able to abandon it when it isn't the best way to express a certain part of his argument but cannot.

However, one of his major conclusions, "infoveganism," is basically untenable and is a strong example of where his metaphor falls apart. Johnson describes "infoveganism" as accessing the least processed information (78); which is to say, straight data with no analysis or interpretation (honestly, it's more of an "info-raw food diet," but whatever). Johnson is right that "reading the public filings of companies from the SEC is likely to give you more benefit than listening to Jim Cramer smash things on CNBC" (140). Yet that is only true if you have developed enough of an expertise in understanding businesses and the market to make heads or tails of this data. You need to invest a lot of time learning in order to be able to do so. Yet, we don't have time to be specialists in everything that affects our lives. We don't even have time to have background knowledge in everything. I know I don't, and I'm in the library field, which at times feels like one of the few remaining professions that encourages knowing a little bit of everything. That's the reason these third parties exist, to interpret information we don't have time to investigate for ourselves.

This is where the "infoveganism" falls apart: since we have to rely on third parties for understanding much of the information that is relevant to our lives, being data literate requires the ability to evaluate these third parties, which does not make it into Johnson's four components of data literacy. Yet it is so essential. After all, there is plenty of room in between SEC filings and Jim Cramer, but you need to be able to evaluate why one third party is providing more reliable interpretation and analysis than another, but Johnson never to my memory deal with that straight on. He hints at it, such as in his exhortation to watch CSPAN over Fox and MSNBC (139), but he fails to identify his methods for doing so (and seems unaware of the vast literature on how to evaluate information). Thus, The Information Diet is a solid starting point for understanding the nature of our "information obesity," but some of its major conclusions are probably unworkable. ( )
  AGuyNamedCarl | Mar 30, 2013 |
New Year's Resolution for 2013: stay healthy regarding your information consumption. Study and practice The Information Dietby Clay Johnson. Johnson helps you to make choices to avoid information overconsumption. His first claim: information overload doesn't exist, just as food overload is nonexistent. It's the amount and - more important - quality that you consume, that makes or breaks your (mental) health. The author digs this metaphor over and over again and shares good practices for better information consumption, such as:
setting priorities and turn away from distractions. Turn off notification bleeps and icons, spend larger amounts of time concentrating on one task. Think of the lessons in Timothy Ferris' 4 Hours Work Week, the psychological concept of flow and David Allen's Getting Things Done.
avoid reading and watching likeminded sources of information. Get challenged, seek diversity, opposing view points and new insights to keep you fresh and hopefully better informed.
Use social media, but be aware of their shortcomings when it comes to desinformation on purpose. Do research, check, dig into the deeper web, go to a traditional library.
After this practical and very useful howto's Johnson describes the political landscape and information spinning process in the US, less relevant to non-US readers like me. True to the spirit of the book, I disregarded that part as an unnecessary waste of time and attention.

Beyond the first taste
For those willing to take the message seriously informationdiet.com offers a huge amount of additional resources like Meetup info on local chapters to join, Google+ Hangout to interact with the author, software tips for a healthy information diet like adblockers, rescuetime and sanebox, and other books on the topic. ( )
  hjvanderklis | Nov 11, 2012 |
When I began rationing (and rationalizing) my internet usage because I was spending too much time on the Internet I realized this was fundamentally about how I process information - email, Facebook, and link hopping.

CAJ says to treat your information like food. In Part One he makes the argument of comparing information to food and why we enjoy consuming so much of both. My favorite part was that consuming the same 'junk' information will strengthen our 'reality dysmorphia,' a cognitive version of 'body dysmorphia.' He makes the case on why there is junk information in the first place (AOL Way, Big Tobacco), and how too much information can lead to very real physical side effects - being sedentary, email apnea (really - we breath more shallow when checking our email), loss of focus from notifications (increased heart rate after reading a text message), and a poor sense of time.

Part two is on how to have a healthy information diet - having data literacy (CAJ suggests data literacy in the future will be like knowing how to read a 100 years ago), a sense of humor, and a method of training to improve our executive functioning. There are many good quid bits here: 'Respect good content, disrespect advertisements,' 'Avoid over processed information,' and 'balance means keeping our desire for affirmation in check.' ( )
  codaa27 | Aug 20, 2012 |
It's the Food, Inc. of news, information, media, and politics.Why FoxNews and MSNBC are the informational equivalents of HFCS and pressed corn and soy products.I'd highly recommend this book to anyone suffering from "information overload" or who is even remotely concerned with it. ( )
  stringsn88keys | Aug 7, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is one of those books that everyone needs to read. It's short. So it won't take long, but it gets you thinking (and hopefully talking) about some very important points that many of us have not yet thought about.

In order for our country and culture to remain stable we must be well informed. Johnson does a good job of quickly outlining how and why we are becoming less informed these days. To be honest, half of the stuff he mentions - you probably already know. But you just haven't thought about the implications. The "diet" metaphor isn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. Mainly because it's not so much 'counting calories' but thinking about the quality of what you are consuming and where it comes from (hint: local is better in food and information.)

Things like 'what's the difference in getting your news via Facebook rather than straight from a new source' or 'just how much do CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, Washington Post, NY Times alter a story/headline to make it "more compelling"' and so on. This is one of those books that you will read and then will find yourself bringing it up in conversations for the next two weeks. It helps that the author is so up front with his political leanings so that we know where things are coming from. It allows the reader to follow him honestly and listen to the causes of much of what is changing in the media landscape.

The book not only does a good job of quickly showing how our news sources alter and filter information for us, but it also begins to explain why. Which starts us down the path of trying to fix the problems. The last bit of the book does contain some concrete "how to"' information and a pretty strong call to action.

My only complaint is that this wake up call/manifesto is as short as it is. The call to action and tool set offered at the end would have been a little more compelling if backed by some deeper discussion. But then the book would have been longer... and thus, not as approachable. This is one I wish everyone would take an afternoon to read. It's a solid 4 out of 5 for me.

(In the spirit of full disclosure I did receive this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.) ( )
  trav | May 30, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Humans do not deal well with wretched excess.

Author Clay Johnson makes this the point of his book The Information Diet. Equating food and information, Johnson makes the case that unconscious over-consumption of food or information misses the point of the exercise. Instead of nuturing or knowledge accumulation the result instead is a malady. Finding balance and limits is the key and Johnson lays out how to do this against the masses of information most of us can easily become buried under.

I enjoyed the book. Johnson has a writing style I found both informative and highly amusing. I found several of the book's topics very interesting; one being the idea of 'confirmation bias' (where you acquire information solely for the purpose of supporting beliefs you already hold) and how mass media expoits this tendency. Another was his recommendation that information comsumption be skewed towards a more local and immediate level; an area that is all too frequently ignored in the splash and circus of the national/global arena of news dissemination. I especially appreciated his emphasis on becoming an active producer of information as opposed to a passive consumer. My only complaint about this book is sometimes the food/info analogy became a bit strained. I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to cultivate an objective and thoughtful mindset towards information. ( )
  buchowl | May 29, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The main point of the book is that we are consuming the wrong kind of information, the kind that only affirms our beliefs and does not challenge them. I do think the writer has a point there. However, the metaphor "consuming information is like consuming food" has quite a few problems. One is the obvious one, there is no physical substrate for consuming information. I.e., when we don't consume enough food, our bodies get hungry. When we get no information, or too much, or the wrong kind, we have no such direct feedback. It might have something to do with the tendency in today's world to see obesity as a mental problem. And that brings us to the second one: our understanding of food diets is not that good, which means the "normal" advice to an overweight person (eat less, exercise more) is one that is known not to work in the long term. If we had a better idea of what food we should eat, it might help to make this parallel, but a parallel from one conflicting field to another conflicting one is not going to help. And lastly, the advice given in this book to improve the information we consume, is so complicated that I think only a tiny fraction of the people reading the book will apply it. And that will be the fraction that least needs it.
Interesting idea, but not much more than that. ( )
  wester | May 15, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This ER book was overall good. There are some soft bits at the beginning where we wander places we have no need to go and the metaphor gets really over-extended in my view by the end of the book in the "infoveganism" and "how to consume" sections, but the main content is clearly presented and well argued. There is a lot of cross-references to other recent book commentary on the internet information deluge/ fact famine that seems to be happening- [The shallows]; [The Filter Bubble]. I'm UK/ EU based so a fair amount of the USA-centred (or USA centered if you prefer) politics examples and CNN/ Fox News and others just don't resonate hard with me. Attention, focus and distractibility are really getting important. I've always had the internet available to me since my working life started and I can remember in the start that only rarely did I need to go online and that there were clear deliniations between work and play websites. Now, there are some very grey areas and it does take will power and attention to keep focussed on what you wanted to know. I can legitimately go on wikipedia and msn money to research out companies, but once there some shiny-things can distract me and 10 minutes later I'm looking at biographies of bands I've heard on the radio on the way to work or amazon looking at what books come out soon or just reading news websites like BBC. So, OK, I can agree with the basic message.

The "how to consume" section of working just isn't directed at my general working day- it is much more for a home-office journalist/ programmer style worker producing words/ copy. The final chapter of "people who are programmers like me should get into politics" was frankly a bit weird and ego-centric. Personally of course I think more Biologist, Logisticians who like Pink Floyd should be ruling the country but maybe my biases might be showing there... So, a curates egg of a book with the middle 40-50% being very good, a slow start and a slightly bizarre wrap-up. ( )
  C4RO | May 6, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I was expecting this book to mainly be "preaching to the choir". I've been concerned about the state of information and misinformation available today, and how many people don't know the difference. This book moved beyond that to provide ideas about how we can change our information habits to consciously avoid "fast food information gathering". It's not easy, but unless you're conscious of the information choices you're making, it will be almost impossible to change.

I liked the analogy to the food problem. I think it'll make things much clearer to people who are new to the idea of information bloat. I also like that it was more action-oriented rather than research-oriented. There are many books which discuss neurophysiology, so people can always go there for more in-depth background information.
  Nodosaurus | May 3, 2012 |
I expected the diet metaphor to get strained, but it actually worked better than I expected: consume less-processed information just like you consume less-processed food, and don't consume mindlessly and continuously. The author's approach to dealing with information "obesity" isn't the standard reactionary "Get off the internet! Go play outside!" but a more nuanced look at how to consume better information rather than just less. I particularly liked the looks into why headlines are terrible (overdone and outright false headlines get clicks, clicks = money), and how using your friends to filter information can result in a dangerously narrow point of view. I was less thrilled about how much of the examples were very American politics oriented, but obviously the author has to write from what he knows. And politics in America does provide some interesting examples of over-information warfare, as it were.

What's most striking about this book to me aren't the ideas, though (as a research scientist, going to the source and avoiding "junk" information is already part of my daily routine), but the fact that it's a life-hacking book that doesn't suffer from extreme bloat where the author repeats himself endlessly for 300+ pages. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given the topic, that the author would be able to write succinctly, but after my experience trying to read volumes like The 4-Hour Workweek or Getting Things Done, this brevity and ability to get the point across in a nice slim volume were much appreciated. ( )
  terriko | Apr 28, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
In the last twenty years the world has changed irrevocably. The changes brought about by the spread of the Internet, coupled with the IT revolution, have spawned an Information revlution where never have so many people had access to to so much information. Nowadays it is perfectly normal to read the online edition of a newspaper from half a world away, or indeed to use Google or Wikipedia to check everything from Edward IV’s lovers, to reviews of the new restaurant that’s opened a couple of blocks down the street.

The information revolution has spawned a swag of books about it. Crudely they can be categorised ones that say “it’s wonderful, fantastic, look how exciting it is” and others that say “we’re drowning, we’re overwhelmed and cant’t cope with the firehose of information that is the internet”

This book is in the latter category, and attempts to argue the case for managing one’s news consumption in a sustaniable form and to strive to be well informed rather than highly informed, in short to be selective about what you read and to educate yourself about what the content means.

So far so good. We can all agree that it is incredibly easy to be distracted by the booming buzzing confusion that is the internet. Johnson has a political agenda about the replacement of true news and journalism with faux news - the pseudo dreck served up in place of news with its endles focus on the sex lives of minor celebrities rather than things of real import.

In explaining how this came about Johnson has some interesting things to say, but this is an incoherent book. While he has some interesting things to say about the rise of content over news and some decent stories about the effects of this - stuff that would make a few interesting and entertaining blog posts but spoils it by over stretching his analogy between the junk food industry and the content management industry in which faux news exists to sell advertising. He also doesn’t do himself any favours by citing some pop psychology and psychophysiology - the fun stuff that some loony professor always comes out with but has never been investigated with any degree of rigour

This is also a very American book - in arguing how we should consume selectively and educate ourselves about the content rather than get lost in the sea of meaningless posts about irrelevant things that constitutes most of the information on offer his examples and some of his ideas on controlling you information don’t travel well.

His solutions, tips and tricks as to how to cope with the firehose are fairly standard. Nothing revolutionary, but basically about making lists, structuring your day and avoid the irrelevant, not that different from “getting things done’ applied to the internet. All sensible, but ignoring the fact that most people are not actually very good at structuring their lives.

That said the book has a decent argument behind it. In the same way as the protestant reformations of the 1500‘s encouraged people to take responsibilty for their own lives and educate themselves in matters of faith and doctrine, indirectly incouraging both literacy and independent thought, Johnson is arguing that we should equally literate about the information we consume and be more critical in our assessment of the worth of the information we consume, something that clearly has implications about how we interact with the world. While you might disagree, it is certainly an argument worth having.

While I didn’t like the book and thought it fairly trite at times I’d certainly like to have a beer and an argument with Clay Johnson about some of his ideas. ( )
  moncur_d | Apr 10, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption by Clay Johnson should have been a great book. The premise was interesting. Let's learn to be more effective consumers of information. Unfortunately, the book skimmed the surface and never really got to the point. Instead, Johnson spent much of the book focusing on political topics and weaving in anecdotes that missed the mark. The book does a nice job talking about how much bad information is out there, but provides few concrete suggestions for "conscious consumption" in everyday life. While I generally like books that use a metaphor, I found a bit too much in this text. The general idea of linking information consumption with food and obesity was great, however it seemed to go on and on.

Overall the book was interesting and a quick read, but it didn't really match the title and description. ( )
  eduscapes | Apr 8, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I love me some information. I mean it. I'm a self-proclaimed media wh0re. I have news feeds galore, apps that buzz me with up-to-date information; I check my twitter feed frequently, as well as facebook and Google Reader. If I'm sitting and there's a computer by, it's on and I'm perusing the netosphere. I constantly exchange ideas with my colleagues and students. We chat during lunch about anything from politics to The Bachelor. I'm a reality television junkie as well. They are nothing more than controlled social experiences aired for my personal amusement.



And really. It's always all about my amusement.



Back in college, back when LiveJournal first became popular [we're looking at over ten years ago folks. More than ten, but less than fifteen] my roomies and I would sit around and talk about all of the cool things we were learning. I was taking classes at night and working as a receptionist during the day. You wanna know how much time that left me for reading? It was totally The Awesome.



'Course why am I going into this extra exposition? Because back in college we would chat about information overload. Our running mantra was: too much too much. In fact, I even had my phone programmed with that phrase to appear every time I woke it up from sleep. We couldn't help but imagine what life would be life when the information took over.



S'course, when I saw this book on Library Thing's Early Review I was all hell to the yeah, sign me. Teach me how to nutritionalize [1] my information diet.



And instead what I found was a campy infomercial. There were cutesy little jargons comparing the overindulgent of information to food...which I was trying to buy. Truly. But, if this was a paper turned onto my desk for a grade, I would implore the author to GO DEEPER. Don't just throw a headline term at me, define it and then say you see? YOU SEE? As if the answer is right in front of me.



Oh and let me tell you how much I loved being told I need to simplify my media digestion but BTW check out this website that I've created that will link you to all of this OTHER great information. Ummm, really?



The thing is, Mr. Johnson appears to be a well read, highly intelligent, definitely passionate, filled with credentials kinda guy. But while being told how to wade through the fat of media, I couldn't help but question if this book had deeper ulterior motives since there were so many political agenda talk. SURE, he's going off of his Experience with media. I GET that. BUT! I would bet the book, if a little wordle was created, would have more bubbled-filled words in the politics category rather than media/information.



Overall a bit disappointing. ( )
  readingthruthenight | Mar 31, 2012 |
Johnson makes three main points: that we gorge on information, that much of it is junk (biased and reaffirming our beliefs), and that as a society this is problematic. He links all three points to nutrition and obesity, an analogy that is often fortunate, but doesn't always work. Johnson's proposed solutions are rather idiosyncratic, and his dismissal of other books discussing related issues (such as Carr's "The Shallows") is unfair. But if the reader uses this book as a starting point to evaluate her own information "consumption", then it will be a worthy read. ( )
  jorgearanda | Mar 31, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Clay A. Johnson, founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that created and managed Obama's 2008 online campaign site, and more recently the director of Sunlight Labs (an online organization dedicated to making government information more easily accessible) thinks we have a problem with information consumption. Similar to the alarm bells sounded by Nicholas Carr's "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains," Johnson points to both our ever-shortening attention spans and to the deficiency of the content we're consuming (websites, emails, TV, radio, tweets, "churnalism," etc.)

His prescription for healthier brains and happier, less disconnected and distracted lives is balance and conscious consumption. Just as our brains can be "trained" to crave that dopamine burst when a new email arrives, our executive functions can be trained to focus longer and longer on challenging, authoritative texts. It's simply a matter of building willpower and utilizing online tools to track how we spend our time. Johnson recommends deliberately exposing ourselves to alternative points of view, intentionally avoiding adds with the help of tools like Readability.com, and building our knowledge base is a systematic way with the help of sites like Khan Academy and TED. His arguments for conscious information consumption are well-presented and persuasive. ( )
  justrumbelledearie | Mar 15, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
He lost me at "infoveganism". The overreaching requirement to tie everything back to the stilted analogy of information consumption to food consumption was too much to bear.

Perhaps there was an overarching theme here with a message for today, but I missed it. This felt more like eleven blog posts about his favorite people who think differently were gathered, lengthened by 2-3X, then randomly assigned places in the table of contents, then rushed to print. Sometimes the short form does not need to enter the long form to be relevant.

Not recommended unless you are required to study everything said about popular consumption of Internet sources. 2/5 stars because I suspect there is the germ of a good idea here, it just got drowned on the way to print. ( )
  BookWallah | Mar 11, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
It may be my own prejudices showing, but I find it hard to trust facts in a book supported only by footnotes containing websites...especially in a book telling me that the Internet is full of bias information reporting. I'm also not so sure I trust some of the figures given. For example: "As of 2008, according to the UCSD, we were consuming 11.8 hours of information per day per person while we're not at work." Now assuming that the average person works between 7 to 8 hours per day and we are supposedly consuming another 11.8 hours of information independent of that, that leaves us approximately 4 or 5 hours to sleep. I'm just not sure those are accurate figures. It doesn't seem to add up to me. The book also contained several charts that were obviously meant to be rendered in color (although the book was not) which made the various shades of gray impossible to distinguish between. ( )
  jillbone | Mar 11, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I won this book on early reviewers but in ebook form. Unfortunately, I missed the 2 week window that was available for downloading the book. But very kindly, chazzard took pity on me and sent me their copy so I could still fulfil my reviewing requirements.

I obviously thought this was going to be interesting, as I selected it to request. And the idea that we're suffering from information obesity, consuming information and data passively like we gulp down calories thoughtlessly was interesting. But I am not sure who the audience is. Yes, there are some good basic tips on consuming information in a more conscious way: being active in your choices of what to consume; seeking a balance; looking at other viewpoints. The information on personalisation is, again, interesting, although I think we have self-selected this in the past, much like we select books and friends that match our interests, and I am certainly aware that it's happening, just as I'm aware that content farms exist and how they work. The tips on becoming more information literate and on time management to avoid time wasting, again, are useful. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the people who are attracted to this book - like me - are also likely to be fairly information literate in the first place, possibly working in an information related field. Erm, like a trained librarian working as a writer and editor, working a great deal with web content and marketing materials and using social media to drive her business forward ...

So, I think that the potential audience will maybe not pick up this book, and the people who will may well know about a lot of the topics and ideas already. I think this slight book might have been better off as a long article in a serious but popular magazine.

But I'm grateful to the publisher for trying to send it to me, and chazzard for doing so! ( )
  LyzzyBee | Mar 10, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A topic of huge importance, with enough to get you started, but presented mostly chaotically and shallowly.

Clay starts off by comparing the way we consume information with how we consume food. Quality and quantity of both matter to our health and well being. He then touches a bit on the science behind how human brains process information, and finally finishes off with recommendations on how to form a healthy information diet - where to look for good information, and what to make of them.

While the above path is clear and straightforward, the way Clay presents the information is not. For a book about information I wish it was more focused and better organized. The persuasive part introducing the information-as-food metaphor is mostly too general and abstract, lacking clearer examples and stories. The part about how the human brain works begins with a lengthy excuse about how little science knows on this topic, and so becomes very unconvincing and speculative. Finally the recommendations part also feels as if its lacking clear guidance.

What's definitively missing is spending time on the topic of how much information we actually need for a healthy daily living, just like, incidentally, we don't need that much food.

The book is enough to get me thinking on the subject and willing to dig in deeper, hence the 3/5 rating. It simply needs better writing and editing. ( )
  esonic | Mar 10, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
With his book, Clay Johnson takes the metaphor of our relationship to food and tries to apply it to our consumption of information. Unfortunately, this metaphor quickly becomes an exercise in dead horse flogging, instead of the deep exploration and call to action found in food policy writers like Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle. ( )
  valerieweak | Mar 6, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
What would the world look like if information sources—television, websites, newspapers—had an ingredients label on them like our food has?

In The Information Diet, Clay Johnson examines the link between the obesity epidemic and information gluttony. The parallel is interesting. For example, just as it's healthier to get food straight from the source, it's better to get our information closer to the source. It's time we stopped eating junk information that just reinforces our beliefs, and began to understand and filter data for ourselves.

This topic interested me immediately since I've been reflecting on Nicholas Carr's The Shallows. While Johnson acknowledged his debt to Carr, his analysis of the information differs. Carr, in line with the work of McLuhan, argued that the medium is damaging our attention spans. Johnson argued that it's our fault as consumers. This sounds a little naive to me. I think of the analogy to nicotine addiction. To be sure, the smoker is responsible for their actions but cigarette manufacturers and marketers surely share some of the blame!

Johnson wrote this book for highly addicted info-consumers. In his chapter on "Attention Fitness," he suggested training your mind like a runner trains his body. Set an interval timer for a five minute interval followed by a one minute break. Do your best to focus for five minutes straight before flaking out for a minute. You can grow your attention span from there. I would suggest there are some underlying psychological or physiological issues that should be dealt with first for people who can't focus on something for more than five minutes.

My only real problem with the book was the bait-and-switch marketing. The full title is: The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption. It would be more accurate to call it: The Information Diet: How Becoming Better Informed will Help You Become a Better Political Citizen. I understand that Johnson's background is politics and you write what you know. That said, it felt disingenuous to get to the final chapter of the book to find an essay on how the United States government doesn't have enough politicians to represent the needs of its people.

In the end, Johnson's argument was very thought-provoking. If you're curious about why and how to reclaim your attention span from time-sucks like Facebook, Twitter, and the television, The Information Diet is an excellent source of ... well ... information.

Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was provided at no cost through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer’s program. ( )
  StephenBarkley | Mar 2, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The Information Diet is Clay Johnson’s guide to helping the information-overwhelmed and overloaded. Using food as an analogy, he offers tips as to how one might move away from ‘information obesity’ to a more balanced ‘information diet’. The early chapters focus on the history of information and media, and how it (and the way in which it is consumed) have changed over time. The rest of the book focuses on how to achieve a healthy ‘information diet’; simple tips such as focusing on local information, keeping things simple, and maintaining diversity of information sources are some of Johnson’s suggestions. Readers are directed to http://www.informationdiet.com/ for resources, and for further discussion with other like-minded readers.

As a librarian, I will be using many of Johnson’s suggestions with my classes. Students need guidance on becoming data literate, their own information consumption and tactics to help deal with information obesity, and this book offers some effective strategies. I enjoyed reading this book; it made me think carefully about my own information-seeking and consuming habits. ( )
  chazzard | Feb 29, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Really interesting read and definitely relevant for our times of information overload. The key is filtering, knowing yourself, and choosing what content is valuable, and this book is a great resource for that.
  maxmednik | Feb 26, 2012 |
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