Showing posts with label Noise. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Noise. Show all posts

Friday, May 27, 2022

Book Insights 3/3: The Information Diet: A Case For Conscious Consumption by Clay Johnson



This blog is a only a summary note of the book and does not capture the full content and all the details.  
This blog is written for academic purpose, please do provide citation to the book The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, Author - Clay Johnson, Publisher - O'Reilly, for referencing. 
I encourage the readers to buy the book for a detailed reading. 
It's available on Amazon Kindle:

 Clay Johnson in his book The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, takes a very interesting position by drawing an analogy between the industrialization of food (the fast food culture) with industrialization of information (the hyper digital media culture)

Mindless eating of fast food (low nutrient, high calories) leads to weight gain/obesity. 

Similarly, mindless consumption of information (high quantity but low in quality) leads to information obesity. 

The author alerts the readers by pointing out human beings are hard wired to salt, sugar and fat. 

Similarly, human beings are hard wired for affirmation of their beliefs, fear, hate and gossips.

The appeal he makes to us is not to be passive consumer of media, rather to recognise we all have a 'choice' and to use this agency to decide what to consume? what to avoid? 

The book brings up the concept of Fiduciary responsibility i.e. media companies serve their shareholders by focusing on revenue and profit margins. This business model translates into:
  1. Tweaking news headlines to make it more palatable to it's audience.
  2. Create Link baits, as more clicks = more ads = more revenue for the media house
  3. Many media houses deploy multivariate testing. In the initial 5 minutes, 2 variant headlines of the same news are put out online. The headline which draws more clicks stays online.
  4. Experienced journalist are being replaced with network of less qualified, cheaper independent contractors.
  5. Content farming: The editors makes decision on 4 parameters: i. Traffic potential, ii. Revenue potential, iii. Turn-around-time and iv. Editorial quality.
  6. Deployment of SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
  7. Media content is catered towards the algorithms, SEO
  8. Churnalism: Simply copy pasting what's in a press release (permissible plagiarism) than value added news articles
  9. Advertisements, Sales have taken over as the primary driver. For free or low priced content, unknowingly the consumers are the products.
The author also makes us aware of Bad Science, i.e. vested interests coming together to fund research studies, favourable to them. He gives examples of:
  • US Big Tobacco companies creating organizations such as Center for Indoor Air Research and ARISE (Associates for Research in The Science of Enjoyment). [create doubts in the minds of smokers and non-smokers]
  • American Enterprise Institute (think tank) funded by Exxon Mobil, Philips Morris [anti-climate change lobby]
  • Climate Gate controversy of 2009, University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit.
This battle of Science and battle of Doubt Production, makes the information landscape murky.  

If you would have noticed, all the above points towards the external environment. 

The author, now makes us look inwards i.e. into 3 short comings of our nature which keeps us ignorant and ill-informed:
  1. Agnotology: The more informed someone is, the more hardened their beliefs become, irrespective of the information being factually correct or incorrect.
  2. Epistemic closure: Dismissing all other sources of information as unreliable.
  3. Filter failure: The bubble we create for ourselves, to avoid cognitive and ego burden.
Infact, social media feed algorithms are creating filter bubbles for us.

The author lists out the symptoms of information obesity: 
  • Distorted sense of reality, 
  • Loss of social breath (unable to nurture meaningful interaction due to the sheer overload of online network), 
  • Attention fatigue, 
  • Poor sense of time (screen addition, staying in virtual reality), 
  • Poor decision making. vi. Loss of productivity and efficiency. 
The author offers a solution to us by coining a new term 'INFOVEGANISM'

At the heart of this Infoveganism, lies:
  • Change the mindless/passive/auto-pilot consumption habits of media
  • Become conscious consumer
  • Follow ethics
  • Master data literacy
Mastering data literacy comprises of the following skills:
  1. How to search? (verify the source)
  2. How to filter? (think critically, make good judgement)
  3. How to process? (draw insights)
  4. How to produce? (as a content creator, focus on quality and value)
  5. How to synthesize? (connecting the dots and making inferences)
The author provides simple hacks for staying in control and to be mindful of our information diet:
  1. Prevent attention fatigue. In other words, we can maintain our attention fitness by i. Strategic allocation of our attention (choose what is important for you and filter out the rest), ii. Will-power, iii. Measurement (self-assessment of your media consumption) and iv. Elimination (based on self-assessment, minimize the unwanted/excess).
  2. Set daily time limit for online/screen time and stick to it.
  3. Sign up for advertisement free content
  4. Pay for consuming good content
  5. Set priority for yourself, use rules and filters to cut off unwanted emails, notifications etc.
  6. Operate out of consciousness, be mindful. Remind this to yourself and practice this habit.
The quote from the author Clay Johnson, sums up the message of the book:

"Obesity is a complicated problem. Obviously, obesity has to do with access, and obesity has to do with the economic conditions, but it sometimes also has to do with overeating, and the same thing happens with information. I think a lot of people don't have great access to information and good information, that's for sure, but also in the world of the internet, we have almost universal access to everything that we need. And that means that we have to make empowered decisions and informed decisions about what it is that we're consuming. It's the only way to sort of 'live right' online." - Clay Johnson

#information #informationoverload #InformationOverloadDay #conscious #Consciousliving #ConsciousChoices #Consciousminds 

Thursday, December 17, 2020


I am on diet is a common phrase of our times. After all fast food, confectionaries, beverages (the addictive trio salt, sugar and fat) has become our way of life, over time. 

Industrialization of food, has resulted in the prevalence of microwave dinners, fast food, packaged and processed foods, food-consumerism culture, large-scale food production, grocery shelves stocked with microwaveable, super-sized, bite-sized and on-the-go meals, plastic-wrapped and frozen food. In essence, there is no gastronomic experience but rather efficiency and utility of food, just to re-fuel ourselves.   

Over time, we are suffering the negative consequences of obesity and lifestyle diseases, since the advent of industrialization of food.

Clay Johnson in his book The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, draws a parallel between the industrialization of food and the industrialization of information.

So what is industrialization of information? 

Webster dictionary defines Information Age as a time in which information has become a commodity that is quickly and widely disseminated and easily available especially through the use of computer technology. 

With Information floodgates open, countless content irrespective of meaningful or not, keeps rushing at us in countless formats through our laptops, tablets, mobiles. 

Johnson points out, we modern humans are mindlessly spending endless hours everyday consuming information through screens (mobiles, tab, laptops) and speakers. "Just as we have grown morbidly obese on sugar, fat and flour - so too, have we become gluttons for texts, instant messages, emails, RSS feeds, downloads, videos, status updates and tweets." - Johnson.

Indeed a food for thought, to chew upon isn't it? 

There is so much of overload of information, many of it is junk, irrelevant, forced upon, distracting, devoid of any value, meaningless which does not cater to our wellbeing and growth. But we end up consuming them because we aren't mindful enough and we have got habituated to it over a period of time. 

In this context, if we see the term 'Information overload' is a misnomer. 

Clay Johnson argues blaming the abundance of information itself is as absurd as blaming the abundance of food for obesity. It's not that the fast food on it's own is coming out of the fast food joints and popping into our mouth. It is we who are making the choice to consume it over healthy food. (Makes perfect common sense isn't it? Ultimately it's about cultivating good habits and making healthy choices).

He proposes an alternative phrase, 'Information Over-Consumption' which is a truer reflection of the reality.

Parallels drawn between the industrialization of food and the industrialization of information is quite evident to us now. Eating too much food can lead to obesity, and consuming too much information can lead to cluelessness.

Just like over-eating leads to negative health outcomes, Information Over-Consumption leads to various negative outcomes across Physical (obesity, hypertension, sedentary death syndrome, diabetes, heart disease), Psychological (distorted sense of time, shallow social relationship, reality dysmorphia, screen addiction) and Social (agnotology, epistemic closure, democratic failure) dimensions.

In the background of this contemporary issue, Clay Johnson in his book The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, makes a strong case of cultivating good habits and to become selective about the information we consume as we are about the information we consume.

Remember Maslow's Needs for Hierarchy? The pyramid model of hierarchy of human needs.

Extrapolating the idea of Clay Johnson's Information Diet, Future Crunch a weekly newsletter proposed an 'Information Pyramid' model in the lines of Maslow's Needs of Hierarchy model.

The Information Pyramid model gives us a visualization of what kind of information we should  consciously consume and what kind of information we should consciously minimize. 

We should consciously cultivate a good habit and make smarter choice to consume more of Consensual Information (newsletters, podcasts, specialist publications) & Humanistic Information (books, audiobooks, essays, documentaries) and minimize the consumption of Non-consensual Information (email, messages, notifications) & Algorithmic Information (news, social media).

Bottom-line, let's make smarter, conscious decision to stop Information Over-Consumption in today's Information Age for our own sanity, well-being & growth.