G.d. Brennan's Reviews > The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption

The Information Diet by Clay A. Johnson
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's review
Aug 02, 2012

really liked it

"The Information Diet" is a healthy but less-than-comforting blend of facts and observations about the ideological comfort food many Americans wolf down every time they turn on a news channel.

Johnson convincingly demonstrates that many people seek affirmation rather than information--they'd rather be told that they're right than told to challenge their assumptions. And given that content providers--particularly on T.V. and heavily-trafficked Internet sites--make a living on ad revenues, they tailor their delivery to cater to this less-than-healthy tendency. (This happens both on the right and the left--the Huffington Post, for instance, will put two different headlines up for a given story, then see which one gets the most clicks in five minutes, and use that one for everyone from then on--a sure way to ensure that the most inflammatory headlines are the ones most people see.) Furthermore, filter bias--the tendency of news sites to personalize news, and of social media to lump us with people who think like us--makes it all the more easy for citizens to get caught up in partisan groupthink.

It's a slender book, which is a shame; I'd argue that this trend is pervasive not only in political journalism, but in virtually every form of communication. (The pervasiveness of comic-book movies and the rise of reality T.V., for instance, also speak volumes about how most people prefer comfort to true nourishment; the former allows viewers clear-cut heroes to root for or villains to root against, while the latter consists almost entirely of shows that promise to turn ordinary people into celebrities, or shows that give the viewer someone to look down upon. I digress.) Johnson's suggestions helpfully point people towards what he calls "infoveganism"--whereby people would consume information much the way vegetarians consume food, by going closer to the source, and not relying on secondhand or reprocessed products. He offers some helpful suggestions as to how to do this, but one wonders if it is all hopelessly utopian. In a busy world with nearly infinite demands on one's attention, it's hard to go rooting around on the internet for information that really matters, and hard to connect with people outside our social circles; it's a lot easier to just sit back on the couch, clicking links and changing channels until we find something we like.

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