This is the second part of my summary of “The Information Diet” by Clay Johnson (you can also read the first part). This part covers part II: The Information Diet.

EDIT: the third and final part is finally published.

The Information Diet

First of all: fasting is not dieting. It’s good to disconnect, but unplugging is just a way to avoid our bad habits. Second: the diet is based on the author’s experience, and is not backed by science. Third: it’s a list of recommendations, and every person has to find what works for them. Summary: Consume deliberately. Information over affirmation.

The author coins the term infovegan, a person that consumes consciously. This requires knowing where to get appropriate data and what to do with it. Check the ingredients of “processed information” (when reading news on a new medicare proposal, take a look at the bill itself). It’s also a moral choice: opting out of a system that’s at least morally questionable, shunning factory farmed information, politically charged affirmations, and choosing to support organizations providing information consumers with source-level information and containing more truth than point-of-view.

Data Literacy

Our concept of literacy changes with every major IT shift. Now, filtering and sorting through all the available information is very valuable. Proposal for a modern data literacy:

  1. Know how to search: not just Google and Bing, but specific engines for patents, scientific papers, laws, budgets (eg. USASpending.gov), etc.
  2. Know how to filter and process: need to find the most reliable and accurate information sources, and learn how to process them with tools like spreadsheets, or else we’re unable to draw accurate conclusions.
  3. Know how to produce: knowing how to publish information (text, audio or video) and the ability to take feedback are both critical skills.
  4. Know how to synthesize: we must be able to synthesize the ideas and concepts of others back into our ideas.

The Diet

First of all, figure out how much information you’re consuming daily (the average is 11 hours). A long-term goal could be to reduce that to 6, turning the rest into information production, social time with friends, exercising, etc. Things to avoid:

  • Mass affirmation: avoid the suppliers that make a living telling you how right you are. Eg. no more than 30 minutes a day of mass affirmation. For liberals, that’d mean choosing between Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.
  • Overprocessed information: consume locally or try to remove distance to the things that you investigate.
  • Advertisements: the economics of advertisement-based media results in sensationalism. We have to reward our honest, nutritious content providers with financial success.
  • Our own fanaticism: keep an eye on your own fanaticism and challenge your beliefs. Keep a list of stuff you find to be absolute, like firm positions and values, and look to find data and people that challenge your biases, prescribing yourself enough time to encounter them.

And this is the end of the second part of my summary. The next one will be the last, covering Part III: Social Obesity.