The Information Diet by Clay A.Johnson is an interesting read about the problem of having too much information coming at you. We hear lots about Information Overload or Filter Failure but as Clay alludes to in the book, these are not actually new concepts.
Throughout the book the author draws some very interesting and meaningful analogies between the food industry and the data industry. I think the analogy works well.
Driven by a desire for more profits, and a desire to feed more people, manufacturers figured out how to make food really cheap; and the stuff that's the worst for us tends to be the cheapest to make. As a result, a healthy diet--knowing what to consume and what to avoid--has gone from being a luxury to mandatory for our longevity.
"Much as a poor diet gives us a variety of diseases, poor information diets give us new forms of ignorance--ignorance that comes not from a lack of information, but from over-consumption of it, and sicknesses and delusions that don't affect the under-informed but the hyper-informed and the well educated."
Clay makes a passionate case for controlling our desires to consume anything and instead to make controlled choices about the information we digest. You can see how the analogy to food and diet works so well through the book.
"Like any good diet, the information diet works best if you think about it not as denying yourself information, but as consuming more of the right stuff and developing healthy habits."
Clay makes some very interesting points about it all being a personal choice. It is indeed a personal choice to consume information but it's not always so easy to change the habit.
"Blaming a medium or its creators for changing our minds and habits is like blaming food for making us fat."
"Though we constantly complain of it--of all the news, and emails, and status updates, and tweets, and the television shows that we feel compelled to watch--the truth is that information is not requiring you to consume it."
Clay talks about how we need to restrict our information to that which challenges our thinking, not re-enforces or gives us affirmation. He turns this slightly to also talk about how we are being dumbed down because we are reading what we want, rather than the truth. The networks, providers and social channels of information are in turn feeding this selectivity. Hence we are only being exposed to what we typically already agree with. This is leading to ignorance.
"Giving people what they want is far more profitable than giving them the facts."
Towards the middle of the book Clay talks a lot about the science behind our thinking and consumption of information looking at Heuristics and cognitive bias. These sections lose the more accessible nature of the rest of the book, but are crucial to giving the full insights.
In concluding the book Clay talks about attention and how best to consume information.
There's a political theme that rides through to the whole of the book which at times felt like it took over the main message (assuming the main message was about information). Clay mentions a lot of the work he did in politics and his view of political information. The end chapters of the book though feel more heavily politically tinged than the rest of the book and took me by surprise. It didn't feel like the book needed the political ending, but I guess maybe this was one of the purposed of the book - to get people to think about politics more critically.
The last chapters almost read like a call to arms to change politics (American politics) which didn't seem fitting with the rest of the book.
I was disappointed not to have more hints and tips on how to consume healthier diets of information but maybe that was not the intent of the author.
It's a good insight in to information, how we consume it, how it consumes us and what we can do to change. The political call to arms aside the book is an accessible and interesting read. You'll learn lots from reading this book and that to me is the sign of a good non-fiction book.