For a while I ignored the hype around Clay Johnson’s book The Information Diet–mainly because I was pretty sure I knew what it was going to tell me. I figured it’d talk about the importance of limiting your information intake (it did) and advice on choosing good information sources (it does). And since I’m a regular read of Zen Habits and generally strive to keep things simple where I can, I assumed that the book would have little new to say to me.
But I recently came across some commentary that got me wondering if I shouldn’t pick it up anyway. I don’t remember exactly what I read (or where), but the gist of it was that there are some interesting parallels between the changes in our food production and consumption and the changes in our information production and consumption. So, given my interest in the former, and the fact that I have more than a passing interest in the later, I recently decided to read the kindle edition of The Information Diet.
It turns out that the changes in food nutrition (calorie consumption) and mind nutrition (information consumption) is a recurring theme throughout the book. If you’re wondering about why the quality of the nightly news (and much of journalism in general) has decreased in the last few decades, this book does an excellent job of explaining that. When you start to think of much of today’s “news” as information “snack food” that’s a far cry from the high quality, well researched, less biased, and in-depth news we used to see a bit more often, you realize that some of the same economic forces are at work.
To give you a taste, I really like this quote that opened the book:
When you’re young, you look at television and think there’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.
That quote is attributed to Steve Jobs. Yes, that Steve Jobs.
But without getting into the business, politics, and economics at play, it’s safe to say that having a truly healthy lifestyle involves learning to deal with (and manage) the many things that vie for our attention on a daily basis–things that didn’t even existing a decade ago: twitter, facebook, smart phone apps, you name it. The Information Diet provides a healthy reality check for our daily information consumption habits and impulses. It also provides a good framework for thinking clearly about what is “too much” and how to keep consumption moderated.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by information or the choices we have to make about information (really, who’s not at some point?) this book is a great read. I’ve told more than a few people that the hardest thing I have to do every day is decide what I’m going to ignore that day, otherwise I’d never get anything done. The Information Diet makes that a little bit easier and helps you to not feel guilty about doing so.