The Information Diet | Clay A. Johnson

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.

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