Customer Reviews: The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption
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on January 22, 2012
"Information Diet" is a clever metaphor, and there are some interesting parallels, but ultimately the author stretches it too thin.

The first great observation made by the author is that the problem we face today is not "information overload" but "information overconsumption". The information doesn't automatically enter our minds, instead we deliberately engage in behaviors that deliver it to us - in other words, we are not victims, instead we inflict "information overload" on ourselves via our day-to-day habits. Second, information just like calories can be "refined" to peak curiosity: shocking headlines, tabloids, notifications of all kinds, and so on. These "empty calories" are easy to consume, but deliver little in terms of useful information.

However, this is where the author's analogy begins to disintegrate. Yes, all information has a consumption chain: raw data, facts, trends, expert analysis, headlines and tabloids. However, to say that a "healthy information diet" is one that gets all, or most of its data at the source ("raw"), is simply misleading. Yes, experts add their own "seasoning" through their analysis, but unlike a refined carbon chain, which is only broken down the further it is processed, information and knowledge has this curious potential property of being enriched with further analysis! Not always, mind you - potential, is the key word.

In fact, the very reason I bought this book (and likely, you are considering as well) is that I implicitly assumed that the author has spent the time and effort to process, assimilate, and think through all the implications of his metaphor. In other words, we expect a "highly processed" work, distilled to its very essence - nothing but the good stuff. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case. Instead, we are treated to several chapters on food processing with a weak connection to our "information diet", and a few examples of CNN vs. Fox in the news. Disappointing.

With the fear of stretching the metaphor too thin, how about answering the following questions:
- what are, or should be, the nutrients in our information diet? Politics vs. technology vs. hundreds of other topics.
- how does one not over-consume and optimize each category?
- how does one seek out new sources and fields that you may not be easily exposed to?

And the list goes on... Unfortunately "Information Diet" answers none of it.
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on January 5, 2012
According to Johnson there is no such thing as information overload. Rather, we consume junk information produced by contetnt farms. He proposes conscious consumption of information which is not about consuming less, but developing a balanced and healthy habit just like when you go on diet. Although, I don't agree with every word of it, I really enjoyed reading the book as it is full of stories and clear descriptions of various scientific studies.

In the first part, Johnson gives a vivid explanation of the obesity metaphor and describes the symptoms of information obesity. The second part contains practical advices about improving data literacy and how to consume information and attention fittness in chapter 8 which is the weak point of the book. The method describe there is very similar to the Pomodoro techinque, and although there are plenty of great books on how to manage your tasks and stay focused (GTD, Personal Kanban, Pomodoro) and the author mentions a lot of studies in the book somehow he forgot to search in this area. The last part is my personal favorite. If we really want to act against information obesity, changing our habits is just the first steps. Johnson calls us for some sort of activism by demanding access to government data, forming local interest groups and start discussing what we can do to change the present situation.

I'd recommend the book to anyone who's interested in media (so virtually everybody). But be warned, this book is not about the practical side of handling the problems of information, but a pamphlet and call for change.
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on August 23, 2012
As another reviewer stated, the book reads like a really long essay. Its bloated, slow reading, and doesn't progress at all. There is no "aha" moment and no opportunity to gain a deeper understanding or appreciation for the subject matter. The author continually returns to the metaphor of physical diet which he absolutely beats to death. There were several times where I had to actually think about what book I was reading because he went on for entire chapters about the history of food and obesity in the United States. Complete waste of time and energy.

If I were to distill the book down into one sentence it would be:
An information diet isn't about consuming less, its about consuming the right things.

Start by not consuming this book.

P.S. If you're having a hard time culling the information overload you experience on the internet, the author's website lists a couple of software tools that might help: [...]
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on December 26, 2011
I was interested in the book, and the central metaphor--that we are awash in cheap and unhealthy information in a way not unlike the glut of cheap and harmful food calories--is an intriguing conceit. However, that simile gets expanded so epically that the book's focus gets diffused. Why am I reading about factory farming and the overuse of corn in our diet for page after page? It's not even remotely because the author is adding anything new to the discussion. It's just rehashed and oversimplified summarizing of books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma. And here's the problem: not only has everyone heard all of this criticism of our American diet endlessly before, but the only reason it gets rehearsed for far too long here is because of the author's central conceit, which, as analogies go, is too obvious to require it anyway. As soon as he says that the central analogy is that we consume information like we do food, with all the attendant problems, he hardly needs to repeat for us all the problems with obesity and empty calories.

So the first irony is that the book is fat. It could be a lot leaner. It feels like sections have been added to pad it up to a slim little volume you could call a book, when everything interesting here could be said in a magazine article. Too many empty calories, alas.

The second problem, and one I would hope most readers would care about, though I have my doubts, is the painfully obvious bias the author exhibits when he divides up information into "health food" and "junk food." Kudos to the author for at least acknowledging that he's a liberal who has worked in Democratic politics for years, but that still doesn't excuse the exquisitely obvious way that he divides up the landscape. For pages, I literally dreaded his first mention of Fox News (a station, I must note, that I never watch), for I knew it was coming, and I knew exactly what he would say about it. I won't bore the reader with the details--if you're honest, you know exactly what the most predictable leftist take on conservative media would be. Yet when you have high hopes for a book, to cringe, literally, as it becomes obvious what kind of flatulent, flat-footed bias will be passed off as objectivity... well, it was disheartening.

I could add that, while I don't like any television news stations, what made the predictable Fox-bashing seem more horrible was the way it was couched in a defense of CNN as "the facts." For you see, Fox (and later MSNBC, cynically following Roger Ailes' model) is serving up the "cheese fries in gravy" equivalent of information sustenance, whereas CNN is just "the truth" and "the facts"-- a well-balanced, healthy diet of Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper. And THAT'S why CNN's ratings are so low. It's the information equivalent of broccoli.

Maybe if CNN confirms YOUR bias, it can seem to you like just the "truth" and the "facts." But the idea that it is merely objective is, to put it mildly, absurd.

And so there is your second irony. The author says the problem with information consumption is that people only will watch or read what they want to hear, what confirms their bias. Especially those Fox-watching neo-cons, of course. Whereas those of us who get the objective "truth 'n' facts" from Anderson Cooper, et al., at CNN are open-minded people who can handle the truth. Any mainstream progressive who reads that claim will be flattered and have his biases confirmed.

There are lots of other silly things wrong with this book, such as when the author claims that the printing press ushered in the renaissance (a neat trick for Gutenberg to bring about Petrarch and Pico della Mirandola). But to sell a fatty book that's padded with excess and unnecessary verbiage as if it's an information diet, and to flatter readers that, unlike people who want to be flattered, they're truth-seekers--these things make the book especially disappointing.

Maybe it gets better after the first third. That's how much I could take before I decided to cut my losses and read something more nutritious.
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on February 29, 2012
Clay Johnson's "Information Diet" is a generally well-written book, interesting and with a sense of humor. It takes on an important topic with increasingly broad relevance. As other reviewers have noted, the core analogy, which links how we consume information to how we eat, works pretty well. Johnson gets the book's main points across in ways that are straightforward and compelling. The first half is a quick-reading tour that covers the reasons we're attracted to information and how we process it. If that was the sole purpose, then mission accomplished and good job!

But Johnson also wants to help us be healthier info consumers. It's the second half of the book - the "diet" part - that could be tighter. In general, The Information Diet doesn't offer too much advance over an older book: "Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut." And what is new sometimes comes off as too personalized to the author's own experiences. One suggestion, to work on-line in increments of 5 to 20 minutes and then take breaks, even contradicts some of the leading insights from productivity gurus. A second issue is that Johnson focuses mainly on one part of the problem: time we spend taking in "junky" information. Sticking with the food analogy, he jokes that people don't have a problem eating too many vegetables. But for me and other folks, there CAN be too many veggies on-line - too much info that seems relevant and useful. The book misses a chance to offer insight on how to make smarter info choices here.

Overall, a good reference on the topic but jury is still out on whether the diet works.
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on March 24, 2012
The Information Diet is an smart idea but presentation is not up to the mark. Clay repeatedly compares information with eating habits. Though comparison is good but same idea is repeated throughout the book.

I started reading this book with high hope but ....

The contents of book might be fit for 30 page booklet but surely not for 182 page book.
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on August 14, 2012
While I found the analogy between agri-business and info-business clever, accurate and relevant, I also found it to be exhaustive.

I was hoping the content would be more in the way of practical techniques and tools to analyze and improve my information consumption, however the book is light in this area.

I did come away with some practical learnings that I was able to apply, and I don't regret the read (its easy and fast), but I think my expectations were higher than what was actually delivered. Perhaps I got over-hyped reading about it in WIRED (that was what lead me to download it to my Kindle Fire).

I suggest just speaking to someone who read it -- you'll get a cliff-notes version that will give you the salient points without the cost or time spend.
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on December 19, 2011
The main point of the book is to consider your intake of information similar to your food diet. Which is quite apt: one of the ways to stay healthy is to not overconsume. Well the same applies to information, because we tend to consume information sitting down, which isn't healthy when done for long stretches of time and we tend to live inside an echo chamber of information that affirms our ideas, which makes it hard for us to stay objective. The author therefore proposes we follow an Infovegan diet, which mirrors a diet by Michael Pollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

As a Google Reader junkie, I know how addictive an endless stream of information can be. Clay Johnson gives several tips for battling this so you end up with a maximum of 6 hour consumption of information. First off, turn off your notifiers for things as email and social media. Second, install something like RescueTime to get an insight in how you spend (or waste) your time and set goals on how to improve these stats.

The book ends with a rally to be more considerate about where you get your information from (more locally produced), try to act on things that can make a change NOW and ...

Although I already tried doing most things the author recommends in the book, they somehow never were enough to kill my information addiction (heck, I read this book didn't I?). However, I feel like this book has reemphasized the need to change and gave some actional goals to try and limit my intake to more reasonable levels.

If you're an information junkie like me and are interested in some change in perspective, then this may certainly be a book for you.
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on March 16, 2012
Up front, this is a book that should spawn a new genre - the 'how to' of surviving force feeding of too much information. And I love the author's politics and credentials - this is an author that I want to enjoy. To top it off, the topic is at the front of my mind as I try and scramble through the virtual hurdles that loom before me. Yet it left me confused.

The upside? The metaphor. I'm skinny physically, but probably obese on my diet of information. Johnson's equation between physical and informational obesity is brilliant. It illuminates and instructs, like all good metaphors should. But then he pushes it too far.

This is a book I really wanted to like, one I wanted to say was ground breaking and that everyone should read. But I can't.

It is in three sections: the first outlines the theory, the second the individual diet and the third the social action needed to change the world.

The theory is fine, but not new. It is a re-run of things that you have read in lots of other places, albeit, in Johnson's book, delivered in a reader friendly way.

The diet? How to stay slim in an informational obesity inclined world... Practical how to stuff, but I couldn't abide it. Clay Johnson has some self-proved strategies for keeping your head above the information drown point - didn't work for me.

And section three, the bit that I hoped was fired, was a tad dull. Johnson is an experienced political operator and this final section of his book promised to set an agenda for changing the diet of crap that we are fed through the world of information. It was interesting.

De Botton (Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion) recently wrote that we can't change the world with books. I think he was right.

Johnson has established a website [...] to pursue this agenda - I get the sense that this is not just a book, but a movement, and I hope he succeeds.

The world will be a better place if Johnson goes on to write a lot more - his is a voice that should be heard. My view though is that his first book that could have been better.
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on February 16, 2013
The first half of the book offers a lot of interesting statistics and facts that stimulate and challenge thinking - and help understand the cultural pressures that modern humans in advanced countries face and need to deal with. The second half of the book offers a lot of rather shallow advice on how to deal with the challenges, at least from the author's personal perspective. But the suggestions are narrowly applicable, given the differences in people. Still, this is a good read and the last half can be skimmed for what one feels might apply to them.
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