Information Diet by Clay Johnson

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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