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The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption 1st Edition

3.7 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1449304683
ISBN-10: 1449304680
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Media personalities and high profile Google and Microsoft employees are extolling the virtues of Johnson's data plan" -Wired Magazine

"'The Information Diet' Should Be Your New Year's Resolution" -Forbes

"The Information Diet is definitely the kind of book that we need to read going into 2012 with all of the junk information online and on our TVs trying to creep into our lives and not making us think critically." -LifeHack.org

"I don't know when I've read a more sensible book." - NPR's Scott Simon

"An intelligent manifesto for optimizing the 11 hours we spend consuming information on any given day (a number that, for some of us, might be frighteningly higher) in a way that serves our intellectual, creative, and psychological well-being." -- Maria Popova, Brainpickings

About the Author

Clay Johnson is best known as the founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Barack Obama's online campaign for the presidency in 2008. After leaving Blue State, Johnson was the director of Sunlight Labs at the Sunlight Foundation, where he built an army of 2000 developers and designers to build open source tools to give people greater access to government data. He was awarded the Google/O'Reilly Open Source Organizer of the year in 2009, was one of Federal Computer Week's Fed 100 in 2010.

The range of Johnson's experience with software development, politics, entrepreneurism, and working with non-profits gives him a unique perspective on media and culture. His life is dedicated to giving people greater access to the truth about what's going on in their communities, their cities, and their governments.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (January 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1449304680
  • ISBN-13: 978-1449304683
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #486,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"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.
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Format: Kindle Edition
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Kindle Edition
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.
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