The Information Diet
A Case for Conscious Consumption
Publisher: O'Reilly Media
Released: December 2011
Pages: 160

The modern human animal spends upwards of 11 hours out of every 24 in a state of constant consumption. Not eating, but gorging on information ceaselessly spewed from the screens and speakers we hold dear. Just as we have grown morbidly obese on sugar, fat, and flour—so, too, have we become gluttons for texts, instant messages, emails, RSS feeds, downloads, videos, status updates, and tweets.

We're all battling a storm of distractions, buffeted with notifications and tempted by tasty tidbits of information. And just as too much junk food can lead to obesity, too much junk information can lead to cluelessness. The Information Diet shows you how to thrive in this information glut—what to look for, what to avoid, and how to be selective. In the process, author Clay Johnson explains the role information has played throughout history, and why following his prescribed diet is essential for everyone who strives to be smart, productive, and sane.

In The Information Diet, you will:

  • Discover why eminent scholars are worried about our state of attention and general intelligence
  • Examine how today’s media—Big Info—give us exactly what we want: content that confirms our beliefs
  • Learn to take steps to develop data literacy, attention fitness, and a healthy sense of humor
  • Become engaged in the economics of information by learning how to reward good information providers
  • Just like a normal, healthy food diet, The Information Diet is not about consuming less—it’s about finding a healthy balance that works for you
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oreillyThe Information Diet
 
4.4

(based on 10 reviews)

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100%

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Pros

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  • Easy to understand (9)
  • Helpful examples (7)
  • Accurate (5)
  • Concise (5)

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    • Student (10)
    • Intermediate (9)
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    4.0

    Good tools. Makes explicit the implicit

    By BogusGuy

    from Los Angeles

    About Me Business, Educator

    Verified Reviewer

    Pros

    • Concise
    • Easy to understand
    • Helpful examples
    • Well-written

    Cons

    • Too basic

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    Comments about oreilly The Information Diet:

    Makes a good concise foundation of a lot that's been out there in different forms. Wonderful tool for work related issues, and Dashboard information consideration. Good analogies and thoughtfull consideration for the novice and doesn't treat you like an idiot, doesn't really offer points of view, just gives, well, food for thought (ouch).

    (1 of 1 customers found this review helpful)

     
    4.0

    A relevant book - for everyone

    By cicero85

    from Lund, Sweden

    About Me Maker

    Verified Reviewer

    Pros

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    Comments about oreilly The Information Diet:

    In his 160 page book "The Information Diet - A Case for Conscious Consumption" (O'Reilly 2012), Clay Johnson compares food and information intake. According to Johnson, obesity can not only occur as physical obesity due to wrong nutrition but also as "information obesity".
    In the first part of the book, Johnson explains why food and information can be thought of as having similar properties. He bases his theories mainly on won experience but also acknowledges classical and recent scientific publications in that field.
    The second part of the book is written as a guide on how we can use information in a more conscious way. Possible ways to improve data literacy and to increase our attention span are shown. According to Johnson, these points are key to a healthy "information diet", to higher efficiency and to a better life.
    The book is written in a quite colloquial style. Its only weakness are the figures, as many of them are illegible in grey scale. The Author uses many examples from US politics, a field that he is very familiar with. Even though many of these examples are unknown to Europeans, the book is of high relevance for everyone who is part of today's "information society".
    I strongly recommend reading this book.

    (1 of 1 customers found this review helpful)

     
    5.0

    A very helpful book

    By Rainer König

    from Germany

    About Me Developer

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      Comments about oreilly The Information Diet:

      One of the best books I've read in the last years. The author is putting his finger in the wound that every "online person" has, too much distractions by social networks, email reminders and so on.

      The measures for the "information diet" are simple, but you need to get the habit to follow them. I started trying to adjust a few things in my daily information consumption and yet I'm feeling less exhausted and just better.

      The book is a real "page turner" and good to read, even if the examples are US centric they are understandable for Europeans as well.

      Bottomline: Absolute recommended reading for everyone

       
      5.0

      An unconventional perspective

      By Gilles

      from San Francisco Bay Area

      About Me Developer, Management

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        Comments about oreilly The Information Diet:

        This book provides an unconventional and very insightful perspective on information creation, its usage, and our consumption habits. The historical perspective along with the parallel explanation of and comparison with food production, evolution, distribution and ingestion allows a greater understanding of our information usage habits and shortcuts, and the resulting distorted views of reality.

        I would add this book to the mandatory list of reading materials for all MBA's and Political Science students.

        Overall, this book should be the start of your long term reflection on ways to be a better and more informed consumer of information. It will also help you avoid the usual over-consumption of unnecessary, unverified, over-processed or plainly false and deceiving news.

        In short, "The Information Diet" is a must-read book in the age of information everywhere, 24/7, that is the main source of our information overload. It is also easy to read with its short paragraphs targeted at specific sub-subjects, providing lots of verifiable references. The style is entertaining and engaging.

         
        4.0

        You are what you eat

        By AngieV

        from Michigan

        Verified Reviewer

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          Comments about oreilly The Information Diet:

          I think Clay Johnson did an excellent job of laying out the types of things we're currently inundated with on a daily basis - information via electronic devices. Using the examples of food consumption, he illustrates the various ways we receive information each day and how this is making us information obese.

          I found this book interesting for two reasons. One, it hasn't been that long since I read Lisa Bloom's "Think", which talked about the 'dumbing down' of women in America and how they need to take control of the information they partake. Likewise, this book illustrates the need to really think about the types of information we consume. If you like Fox News, are you really getting all the information you need to stay well-rounded and well-informed? Most likely not. On Facebook, do you realize that some of the friends you have are no longer showing up in your feed? Most likely, Facebook has decided that your views don't mesh as well with one another and you're only getting the feeds of those who think like you.

          I'm naturally curious and will often seek out information to see the other side, but I realize there are those out there who hold true only to the information they routinely consume. In many ways, that's like participating in one of the fad diets, where you're getting some nutrition but not necessarily eating a balanced diet. Clay wants us to eat more balanced information and really seek out all sides of an issue.

          One thing that he touched upon which really intrigued me was his focus on local politics. Americans tend to get obsessed over national politics and ignore what's going on in their own back yards. While national policies do impact our lives, what happens locally gives us a better insight into that which will immediately change or influence us.

          I think Clay misses the prevalence of constructive debate. We, as consumers, are more inclined to stay away from voicing our own opinions or considering the opinions of others because we may be afraid of being politically incorrect or offending someone else. This is not to say that we should go out and force our views on others, but to go out and hear what others have to say. Speak with people who have different viewpoints than our owns, seek out information online that may be misaligned with our own views. Like those old public service announcements about drugs - "The more you know" the better informed you actually are and the better you'll be able to make well-considered actions.

          I'd like to think that I do seek out opposing viewpoints and discussions, but I do know that I'm not always comfortable standing up for my own thoughts in the face of someone who may be very vocal about their own views. This book has given me good things to think about and put into place. You can also visit informationdiet.com for more information and to take part in discussions. I recommend this book for anyone who may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information currently available to them or who is completely buried by emails, social media sites, or other online information which is causing them to miss out on the natural world.

          (2 of 2 customers found this review helpful)

           
          4.0

          Beating intellectual obesity

          By Paul Wallbank

          from Sydney, Australia

          About Me Educator, Maker

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            Comments about oreilly The Information Diet:

            We all know a diet of fast food can cause obesity, but can consuming junk information damage our mental fitness and critical faculties?

            In The Information Diet, Clay A. Johnson builds the case for being more selective in what we read, watch and listen to. In it, Clay describes how we have reached the stage of intellectual obesity, what constitutes a poor diet and suggests strategies to improve the quality of the information we consume.

            The Information Diet is based upon a simple premise, that just as balanced food diet is important for physical health so too is a diverse intake of news and information necessary for a healthy understanding of the world.

            Clay A. Johnson came to this view after seeing a protestor holding up a placard reading "Keep your government hands off my Medicare." Could an unbalanced information diet cause a kind of intellectual obesity that warps otherwise intelligent peoples' perspectives?

            The analogy is well explored by Clay as he looks at how we can go about creating a form of "infoveganism" that favours selecting information that comes as close from the source as possible

            Just as fast food replaces fibre and nutrients with fat, sugars and salt to appeal to our tastes, media organisations process information to appeal to our own perceived biases and beliefs.

            Clay doesn't just accuse the right wing of politics in this – he is as scathing of those who consider the DailyKos, Huffington Post or Keith Olbermann as their primary sources as those who do likewise with Fox News or Bill O'Reilly.

            The rise of opinion driven media – something that pre-dates the web – has been because the industrial production of processed information is quicker and more profitable that the higher cost, slower alternatives; which is the same reason for the rise of the fast food industry.

            For society, this has meant our political discourse has become flabbier as voters base decisions and opinions upon information that has had the facts and reality processed out of it in an attempt to attract eyeballs and paying advertisers.

            In many ways, Clay has identified the fundamental problem facing mass media today; as the advertising driven model requires viewers' and readers' attention, producers and editors are forced to become more sensationalist and selective. This in turn is damaging the credibility of these outlets.

            Unspoken in Clay's book is the challenge for traditional media –their processing of information has long since stopped adding value and now strips out the useful data, at best dumbing down the news into a "he said, she said" argument and at worse deliberately distorting events to attract an audience.

            While traditional media is suffering from its own "filter failure", the new media information empires of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon are developing even stronger feedback loops as our own friends on social media filter the news rather than a newsroom editor or producer.

            As our primary sources of information have become more filtered and processed, societal and political structures have themselves become flabby and obese. Clay describes how the skills required to be elected in such a system almost certainly exclude those best suited to lead a diverse democracy and economy.

            Clay's strategies for improving the quality of the information we consume are basic, obvious and clever. The book is a valuable look at how we can equip ourselves to deal with the flood of data we call have to deal with every day.

            Probably the most important message from The Information Diet is that we need to identify our biases, challenge our beliefs and look outside the boxes we've chosen for ourselves. Doing that will help us deal with the opportunities of the 21st Century.

            Disclaimer: This book was provided complimentary as part of the O'Reilly Blogger review program.

             
            5.0

            For a healthier information environment

            By HJ

            from Lyndonville, VT

            Verified Reviewer

            Pros

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            • Important
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              Comments about oreilly The Information Diet:

              I asked to review this book for our user group because I was gulping down more information from my computer and iPad than I could digest, and still not finding and effectively using information that I needed. I needed help.

              I became enthusiastic when I read Clay's comparison of food diets and information diets, and the impact of poor diets on me, and on our society.

              I found answers I need, and discovered that my reduced attention span was probably not just old age.

              Clay A. Johnson tells the fascinating and exciting history of similar changes that have occurred in manufacturing of food and of information and what they mean to our health. It reveals the importance of controlling our information diet with the same concern that we apply to our food diet.

              I am starting today to follow The Information Diet, beginning with an inventory, and then developing my program to manage my computer information diet. I hope to get the same healthy benefits as I get from attention to my food diet.

              I believe you will enjoy reading The Information Diet as I did. I liked the combination of the information for us as individuals and the broad scope of the book for us as a society.

              The Information Diet could be a start to restoring and preserving a more effective democracy with a pragmatic government. I would like to see it being read in every high school as a means of improving future thinking and communications for our information diet.

              (1 of 1 customers found this review helpful)

               
              4.0

              Preaching to the choir

              By VMBrasseur

              from SF, CA

              About Me Dev manager

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                Comments about oreilly The Information Diet:

                "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 overconsumption of it, and sicknesses and delusions that don't affect the underinformed but the hyperinformed and the well educated."

                This is the general thesis of The Information Diet, a new book by Clay A. Johnson, published by O'Reilly Media. In it Johnson explores the state of information production and consumption in our society, how he perceives it has changed (for the worse), the cultural, emotional and neurological reasons why this is the case, what may happen if the pattern continues unabated, and how we can work to reverse the trend.

                The analogy of information as food is maintained throughout the work. I knew this going into it and anticipated the comparison would wear thin rather quickly. Aside from being personally bored by the first chapter—which summarizes the history of food industrialization and the obesity epidemic, subjects into which I've delved for years—the analogy works surprisingly well for the entirety of the book. Through this strong parallel to such a well-covered and -publicized public health issue Johnson is able to engage the attention and sympathies of the reader more or less immediately.

                Unlike many of the more conventional "diet" books on the market, The Information Diet does not spend most of its pages on a detailed plan you could follow to reduce your intake of junk information. Johnson does, of course, give some tips on how to do this, but most of them are summed up in his Pollan-esque statement of "Consume deliberately. Take in information over affirmation." Instead, the majority of the book is concerned with the dangers of our current information diets. It is, to maintain the food metaphor, more manifesto than menu. Those of you who read the title then pick up this book hoping to see detailed steps to achieve Inbox Zero may be disappointed on that front. However, if you're looking for motivation to make a more fundamental shift in your attitude toward information intake you may have come to the right place.

                I am myself someone who already keeps her inbox hovering at or just above zero, who regularly scrubs her RSS subscriptions of feeds which were added more for whim than value and who filters her Twitter and Google+ to raise the signal to noise ratio. In this way I'm not really the appropriate audience for this book. I am the choir to Johnson's preacher.

                However there's a stronger reason why I am not the audience for this book: I am neither political nor activist. The final chapter of the book is pure manifesto, enlisting reader assistance in using their newly-reformed information diets to effect governmental and political change. Considering the author's background his concern with changing government is no surprise, however I admit that I was as turned off by it as I am by most other forms of activist outreach (political or otherwise). This isn't Johnson's fault. It's my own hang up.

                To be entirely clear: this is a good book. It's well-researched, well-written and covers topics with which I believe more people should be familiar. It's a good book, just not good for me personally. I recommend that anyone with an interest in any form of information consumption pick up a copy and make up their own minds.

                 
                5.0

                Plan Your Information Consumption

                By Pasan Wijesinghe

                from Sri Lanka

                About Me Student

                Verified Reviewer

                Pros

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                  Comments about oreilly The Information Diet:

                  I'm enrolled in O'Reilly Blogger Review Program and reviewing this book.

                  Clay Johnson is the person who co-founded the firm which ran President Obama's campaign in 2008, Google/O'Reilly Open Source Organizer of the year in 2009, one of Federal Computing Week's Fed 100 in 2010, and won the CampaignTech Innovator award in 2011. In this book he presents an issue, though many of us don't notice, has a vast impact on the future of the human civilization.

                  He describes how our information consumption pattern can be unhealthy, to both body and mind and is really successful in establishing an analogy between food consumption and information consumption. That makes the theoretical facts presented in the book easy to understand. All of us know factory made food is bad for our health. But I didn't thought seriously about information created at 'content farms' - where people write an article about something they didn't knew before, within an hour. To tell the truth, I actually thought just subscribing to these information providers will make me know what I want to know.

                  Clay Johnson points out the danger of this. How that can make us dumb. and how these providers tune their streams to match our likenesses so they can show more advertisements to us. Buy reading the first chapters of this book one can understand how the information business operates, and just like a food consumer falling pray to 'fried chicken' how an information consumer can fall pray to farmed content which may be far from the actual facts.

                  In the last chapters he has proposed an 'information diet' which I see is practical and I'm determined to begin it today itself. It begins by turning off all the notifications and checking them only at a predefined interval- like one 'Facebook' minute for every ten minutes of 'useful' work.

                  Here are some of my favorite extracts from the book.

                  "The industrialization of information is doing to journalists what the industrialization of farming did to farmers. In an effort to squeeze every bit of profit out of a piece of content, expensive journalists are being replaced by networks of less qualified but much cheaper independent contractors"

                  "Our attention is the currency that marketers lust for, and its about time that we started guarding it, consciously, like we guard our bank accounts"

                  "Humanity's darkest moments are the ones in which masses of people had the worst information diets."

                  "A half century ago, the brightest minds of the generation were working on putting a man on the moon. Today, data team lead for Facebook, Jeff Hammerbacher, put it best: 'The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click adds' "

                  (2 of 2 customers found this review helpful)

                   
                  4.0

                  Consume your information wisely

                  By shawnday

                  from Dublin, Ireland

                  About Me Designer, Developer, Educator

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                  Comments about oreilly The Information Diet:

                  The premise of the Inform­a­tion Diet by Clay John­son is: 'What if we star­ted man­aging our inform­a­tion con­sump­tion like we man­aged our food con­sump­tion?' And so it begins. This is a fas­cin­at­ing book framed as an open dis­cus­sion in which John­son car­ries along this meta­phor of inform­a­tion intake being likened to nutri­tional susten­ance. The ini­tial chapters explore over­eat­ing and the obesity of Amer­ica, but the reader is increas­ingly won­der­ing how far the author plan­ning on car­ry­ing this over­eat­ing con­sump­tion meta­phor. As the nar­rat­ive starts to move into the realm of inform­a­tion pro­vi­sion and the 'indus­tri­al­iz­a­tion of inform­a­tion' the author's inten­tions become clearer. The case study of AOL's Blog­s­mith soft­ware that allows for the meas­ure­ment of information's impact on rev­enue and prof­it­ab­il­ity high­lights is quite fas­cin­at­ing and paints a pic­ture of inform­a­tion becom­ing turned into 'fast food' — that is eas­ily absorbed, desired, but of lim­ited or destruct­ive nutri­tional value.

                  The author lays out the threat by plumb­ing the inten­tions of many of the more pop­u­lar inform­a­tion pro­viders on the inter­net and through more con­ven­tional media and then shifts to dis­cuss­ing the ways in which we can and have to com­bat the inform­a­tion deluge for our own sake. The author makes fre­quent for­ays into his own exper­i­ence to provide anec­dotal evid­ence of the impact of 'delu­sion' res­ult­ing from becom­ing too deep in the polit­ical mor­ass and likens this to a mal­ady that increas­ingly effect­ing a greater pro­por­tion of the Amer­ican populace.

                  This is a thought pro­vok­ing book that poses a num­ber of chal­lenges to how we can main­tain men­tal as well as phys­ical health in a world that is ever chan­ging how we receive and digest inform­a­tion. The meta­phor is apt and explor­ing symp­toms such as apnea, lack of con­cen­tra­tion and provid­ing rem­ed­ies such as fil­ter­ing, fit­ness and main­tain­ing proper diet are intriguing. The use of inform­a­tion labeling — much like nutri­tional — is cre­at­ive and although seem­ingly humorous…extremely apt.

                  All in all I enjoyed the read­ing exper­i­ence and would recom­mend it for wide con­sump­tion. It reminds me of Inform­a­tion Anxi­ety by Richard Saul Wur­man or even going fur­ther back to Alvin Toffler's Future Shock. This is not the first attempt to dia­gnosis the prob­lem and surely won't be the last, but this inter­est­ing par­al­lel with nutri­tion and diet is … please par­don me for this… great food for thought ;-)

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