02 March 2012

The Information Diet by Clay Johnson

The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious ConsumptionThe Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption by Clay A. Johnson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, I liked this book but, like all diet books, when it came down to the "how" portion, my eyes glazed over and I mostly skimmed. Johnson draws the comparison between our food intake and our information intake, i.e. some information is more processed, contains fillers or even toxins, and should not make up a significant part of our diet. When he explains how he came to study this subject, through being immersed in the Washington political arena, I found myself nodding as I read. While the situation is not too intense this side of the border, the US population has been neatly divided into Red and Blue states for a few decades -- and it's doing no one any favours.

I agree with most of Jonhson's key suggestions, including consuming information in its most raw form (he calls this infoveganism). This has been the role of researchers, and the best journalists, for ... well, forever, really. Having worked in libraries for over 20 years, we recognize this information as "primary sources" -- raw statistics, first person accounts, government reports and original scientific research. However, I don't feel the need to use software to limit which sites I visit or keep a handy list of biases nearby. This may be simply because I consider myself to be rather advanced in information literacy, but if I weren't I wonder whether I would consider his suggestions reasonable?

It's clear there is a problem with the extreme biases in some media and Johnson does suggest ways those of us who are comfortable can help -- including pursuing open data projects and forming local information diet groups who can meet face to face. I'd have preferred to rate this one 3.5 stars; it's not quite 4, but it's not really fair to give it 3 stars either.

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