I reviewed this book seven years ago on another blog. The Information Diet is not new, but it still makes sense today, given how much and how often we are now carpet-bombed with news, fake news, fake fake news, charts, graphs, videos, photographs, graphic arts images, and desperate celebrities being asinine for clicks & “likes.” It’s time to try a little harder to take care of our brains and our spirits. This book can help. — Si Dunn
The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption
By Clay A. Johnson
(O’Reilly, hardback, list price $22.99; Kindle edition, list price $19.99)
We are sitting down too often and too long while we consume information. It pours into our heads from the Web, from TV, from smart phones, from books, and as blather from our car radios while we drive around.Much of the information we consume is drivel and crap – the digital equivalent of high-fat junk food and raw sugar. And some of us are driving ourselves to destructive distraction through gluttonous obsessions with tweets, status updates, downloads, videos, instant messages, text messages, emails and restless Web surfing.
In this controversial new [in 2012] book from O’Reilly Media, veteran software developer, open source guru and political advocate Clay A. Johnson makes the forceful argument that our current mania for consuming information is killing us, mentally and physically.
For instance, suppose a tweet just went by mentioning some kind of rumored problem with pig populations in Zambia. You idly read it, process it in your head, waste a few more seconds of your life, take another sip of your latte and another bite of bagel while continuing to sit on your butt much longer than you originally intended.
Now you check your Facebook account on your iPhone or iPad, take another sip of your latte, take another bite of bagel, and go back to Twitter. There, you follow a link to what seemed to be a review of a movie you’ve already seen to see. It turns out to be just a lame blog post about how Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich resemble certain characters in Avatar. Then you take another bite of bagel, another sip of latte and check your email and follow a link to something inane about Lady Gaga.
More wasted time. More attention to generally useless information. And more sedentary life has gone by.
We now spend nearly 11 hours a day [likely even more in 2019] consuming and frequently gorging on information, Johnson’s book points out. And it’s driving us to distraction – and killing us.
First, the physical dangers. Johnson notes: “In 2004, one physician coined the term Sedentary Death Syndrome to classify all the diseases that come from the sedentary state. The effects: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and yes, obesity. Some researchers are calling it the second largest threat to public health in America. What are we doing when we’re sedentary? Few of us are meditating. We’re consuming information.”
He continues: “New research points to sitting, especially amongst men, as a leading cause of death. Even if you exercise regularly, it turns out that sitting for long periods of time can be deadly.”
It’s also easy to lose track of time and lose control of time management while distracted by the free flow of information. Something unexpected or surprising or outrageous on the Web grabs your attention, and your carefully crafted to-do list for the day is shot to hell. And, relationships can be affected: “Just a quick check of email when we get home can often end up in evenings entirely lost to LCD screens…” instead of talking and paying attention to each other.
Then there’s the problem of “attention fatigue.” Writes Johnson: “About two years ago, I started to wonder: what the heck happened to my short-term memory? And where did my attention span go? I’ve written a little pithy 140-character tweet, sent it into the universe, and in no more than five minutes, I’ve received a reply. The only problem is, I’ve already forgotten what I wrote in the first place. I’ve had to go back, and look at what I said just five minutes ago to understand what the person replying to me is referencing.”
This book offers more dire warnings about consuming too much information. But the author also offers ideas and recommendations for achieving “Attention Fitness.” You can still have your information and consume it, too, in deliberate, conscious doses that are healthier for your mind, body and your participation in American democracy.
If you pay attention to The Information Diet long enough to actually think about what it points out and proposes, you may figure out how to get healthier again, how to regain your focus – and how to better understand the ways you are being duped by some of the misinformation constantly sucked into your head by your addiction.
You can become a more conscious and proactive consumer of information and not just another wasted – and life-wasting — data junkie.