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Book Review: The Information Diet

Book Review: The Information Diet

    According to Clay Johnson, the author of the newly published and released book The Information Diet, we as information workers and seekers are bloated on what our televisions and our mainstream media outlets give us as “news” and need to redefine our information consumption as badly as we need to redefine our food diets. We don’t consume information deliberately and the information that we do consume is usually biased towards what we already believe. This can not only misinform us but can also waste our time and help us engrain biases that we have built up in our lives.

    Clay Johnson is the founder of Blue State Digital which was the company that built and ran President Obama’s campaign for presidency in 2008. But, hold on you conservatives; Johnson does a decent job of keeping many of his political views out of this book.

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    Instead of following our information bias and catering to it, Johnson suggests that we challenge our ideas and also get to the bottom of the “information trophic pyramid.” A trophic pyramid is basically a way to describe an ecosystem with the primary producers at the base (where the most energy is stored) with smaller groups of consumers at the top. Johnson uses this model to describe how our “information diets” need to be shaped; we need to grab our information as close to the source as possible and synthesize it for ourselves.

    The poor diet analogy

    Johnson says that our information diets are made up of too much entertainment and information that affirms what we already believe (mass affirmation) and he compares this to your poor American diets. We consume whatever “tastes the best” and almost ignore everything else.

    It’s a good analogy, comparing and criticizing our standard American diet, one of too many bad fats, processed carbs, and not enough “real” ingredients, but after several chapters of building up the analogy I almost felt that I needed an information diet from The Information Diet. That may be harsh, but the historical information about how our food is processed is nothing new and I feel that Johnson could have written less about food and more about how we should process information as well as the best places to get it.

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    How to consume information

    In the second part of the book, Johnson goes on to explain how we should consume our information. He simplifies it the most saying that we should, “Consume deliberately. Take in information over affirmation.” This is a great quote to remember as we go through our day, but can be a bit simplistic for someone that wants to totally revamp the way that they consume and process information. That may be the point, but it feels that Johnson took this simplistic approach almost too far and left out a lot of information in this section of the book making it quite open-ended for the reader.

    The chapters that actually contained “The Information Diet” felt too short and gave a lot of tips and tricks about obtaining, consuming, and spending time with our information that have been old hat for many information workers and creators. Johnson suggests consuming information that is as close to the source as possible, lacks a strong bias, and that we consume this information deliberately throughout our day by following a a schedule. Johnson considers basically anything that we watch through a screen as a form of information and that we should try very hard to stick to around 6 hours to that type of consumption a day, leaving the rest for time to create and spend quality time with friends and family.

    Johnson also recommends some great tools for keeping track of your time like RescueTime and also tools for making your web reading better and less advertisement-prone like Instapaper and Readability.

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    Getting involved

    One of my favorite portions of the book is the “Dear Programmer” section (probably has nothing to do with me being a developer) where Johnson makes a call out to developers to try to get involved in creating tools that help citizens dicipher complex information and help out local governments with creating tools and services that make them more efficient. I believe that Johnson could have devoted even more time to this in the book, but it appears that his website is going to help with pushing local “Information Diet” meetup groups where developers and creatives can get involved.

    Johnson also recommends getting involved with the group Hacks/Hackers which is a group that tries to connect journalists (hacks) and developers (hackers) to work on joint ventures and ways to create better outlets for media.

    Conclusion

    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. Johnson makes a good argument of why we need to get our information closer to the source and how to manage our time when it comes to consuming it, but I feel that there is too much discussion of food and how it relates to our information diet. I understand that Johnson is trying to make his point and view a stronger one, but more time could have been spent in the second and third sections of the book explaining how we need to critique the information that we consume.

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    Should you buy the book? For a measly $10 for the Kindle version, I think that the Information Diet has more good information in it than not, with the second and third sections of the book being the most practical.

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    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on October 16, 2019

    Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

    Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

    Do you like making mistakes?

    I certainly don’t.

    Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

    Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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    Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

    Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

    • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
    • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
    • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
    • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

    We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

    If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

    Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

    Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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    When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

    Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

    We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

    It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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    Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

    Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

    Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

    1. Point us to something we did not know.
    2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
    3. Deepen our knowledge.
    4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
    5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
    6. Inform us more about our values.
    7. Teach us more about others.
    8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
    9. Show us when someone else has changed.
    10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
    11. Remind us of our humanity.
    12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
    13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
    14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
    15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
    16. Invite us to better choices.
    17. Can teach us how to experiment.
    18. Can reveal a new insight.
    19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
    20. Can serve as a warning.
    21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
    22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
    23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
    24. Remind us how we are like others.
    25. Make us more humble.
    26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
    27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
    28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
    29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
    30. Expose our true feelings.
    31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
    32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
    33. Point us in a more creative direction.
    34. Show us when we are not listening.
    35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
    36. Can create distance with someone else.
    37. Slow us down when we need to.
    38. Can hasten change.
    39. Reveal our blind spots.
    40. Are the invisible made visible.

    Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

    The secret to handling mistakes is to:

    • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
    • Have an experimental mindset.
    • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

    When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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    When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

    It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

    When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

    Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

    Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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    Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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