Book Review: “The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption” by Clay Johnson

President Trump’s over-reliance on one a singular news source and the proliferation of fake news posts on social networks should inform and remind us of the importance of having a well balanced media diet which should be both diverse and factual.

As an Informaticist and as someone who has work in various news gathering organization over the years, I have been trained to look through vast media sources and synthesize the aggregated vein of truth and weed out the noise, but anyone can learn how to have a healthy media diet.

There are many great resources out there for people who want to learn about having a healthy media diet, e.g. the radio show On the Media by NPR/WNYC, but if you want a “one-stop” overview as oppose to On other Media‘s ongoing narrative, I recommend The Information Diet by Clay A. Johnson.

Relating media consumption to eating food is an old concept going all the way back to Marshall McCluhan, but a tried and true one. Like the food we eat, media can, in the context of our understanding​ of the world and the events in it, can be both healthy and unhealthy. Too much media can make us bloated with unreal narratives and narrow ideologies. Too little media consumption can leave us simply ignorant and lacking enough information to make informed decisions.

Johnson takes this “media as food” allegory and runs with it, using explanations and even diagrams straight out of a FDA nutrition manual. But this makes the book extremely accessible and relatable.

And like any good information nutrionist, Johnson hits all the basics, how to understand, process and filter the vast amounts of media we are exposed to everyday (data literacy), how not to be distracted by the “bad and shallow”media sources out there (attention fitness).

Johnson also directs the reader to more healthier media sources. Print over cable news, local sources over national sources, and sprinkle evenly with a fair amount of hard data and scientific resources throughout.

He also goes into the effects of having a bad media diet can have on the reader and in society as a whole. Johnson doesn’t mince words when explaining how a diet filled with bad media (what he calls “information obesity”), can negatively impact us as consumers, professionals, citizens and how it can effect our friends and family.

And all though it’s been out for a while (2012), the contents of The Information Diet has not lost it’s relevance, to the contrary. We are currently experiencing a bone-fide “information obesity” crisis in this country. With cases of the fallout of consuming bad information manifesting itself in real life consequences, Johnson’s regiment for good media consumption had never had such urgency.

And if your a software developer, Johnson takes a moment to speak to the coder set, writing as an appendix a plea and a call to arms (or keyboards) for developers to volunteer their skills by creating media tools or work with journalists.

I highly recommend this book to everyone no matter what their political leanings are. I believe saying this is important, because when it comes to the topic of choosing what media sources to consume and not consume, the current state of this topic has been coated of late with a layer of politics. I am a progressive, but I think that this book can be read  by conservatives,  the techniques Johnson writes about in this book can be practice by conservatives, and still be conservative, just a more well informed one. And Johnson doesn’t picks sides on this, although politics and government are at the core of contemporary media consumption, like any good health care provider, Johnson takes a balanced even clinical approach to the topic.

Even progressives can fall into a bad information diet and it can lead adverse effects. We ALL need to be more conscience of what we news sources we watch or read on the various screens that direct our attention every day, and we all can leave healthier informed lives as a result.

The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption by Clay A. Johnson
2012, O’Reilly and Associates

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