Earlier last week, I had the pleasure of attending a NetSquared DC meet-up featuring a discussion with Clay Johnson on his new book The Information Diet. Clay develops a clever metaphor throughout his book by comparing America’s overconsumption of junk food to an overconsumption of junk information.

With a quick phone call, one can bypass the hassle of cooking at home and have a pizza delivered right to their front door. People consume this kind of junk food, despite its processed, unhealthy ingredients, because it is cheap, convenient and tasty. Many parallels can be drawn between this custom and the way most people go about consuming information. The plethora of different mediums (Television, Radio, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit etc) for information consumption mirrors our many options for junk food. And in today’s age of instant gratification, we want access to news that is as cheap and convenient as a delivery pizza. What makes this worse is a natural gravitation towards sources that reaffirm us of our own beliefs – after all, similar opinion ‘tastes’ much better than impartial news. Bring these things together and you have the ingredients for junk information obesity – a constant echo of cozy bias that dulls critical thought and mental productivity.

There is hope however! After receiving pressure from customers and government alike, Walmart launched an initiative aimed at reducing sodium, sugar and industrially produced trans fats from the food choices they provide. In similar fashion, Clay has set forth a call to action, providing some ideas to combat this epidemic by trimming the fat from your information regimen. Here are some tips for slimming down your intake:

  • Consciously consume – Avoid losing whole hours to surfing the web with tools like RescueTime, which monitor productivity and produce efficiency summaries for users. Designating specific times for using social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook can also help effectively manage your consumption levels.
  • Seek information, not comfort – “Mass affirmation is the carbohydrate of the mind.” Too often individuals are searching for news that reinforces their own beliefs rather than informing them on actual fact. Be sure to have a variety of biases in the news you read or hear and always consume information, regardless of source, with an element of skepticism.
  • Be a producer – Start your day with a producer’s mindset. Producing is the natural counterbalance to consuming and will help keep things in their proper proportion. Before you consume any information in the morning, write 500 words. The subject doesn’t matter so long as you are writing.

Is it time for you to go on an information diet? Pick up Clay’s book for more ideas and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!