The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption
By Clay A. Johnson
(O’Reilly, hardback, list price $22.99; Kindle edition, list price $19.99)
In this controversial new book from O’Reilly Media, veteran software developer, open source guru and political advocate Clay A. Johnson makes the forceful argument that our current mania for consuming information is killing us, mentally and physically.
First, we are sitting too much and too long while consuming data from the Web, from TV, from smart phones, from books, and while driving around in our cars listening to blather on the radio.
And, much of what we are consuming is crap – the digital equivalent of high-fat junk food and raw sugar. Some of us now are driving ourselves to destructive distraction through gluttonous obsessions with tweets, status updates, downloads, videos, instant messages, text messages, emails and restless Web surfing.
For instance, suppose a tweet just went by mentioning some kind of rumored problem with pig populations in Zambia, and you idly read it, processed it in your head, wasted a few more seconds of your life, and took another sip of your latte and took another bite of bagel while continuing to sit on your butt much longer than you intended.
Then you checked your Facebook account on your iPhone or iPad, took another sip of your latte, took another bite of bagel, and went back to Twitter and followed a link to what seemed to be a review of a movie you’ve already seen to see but turned out to be just a lame blog post about how Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich resemble certain characters in Avatar. Then you took another bite of bagel, another sip of latte and checked your email and followed a link to something about Lady Gaga.
More wasted time. More attention to generally useless information. More sedentary life gone by.
We now spend nearly 11 hours a day consuming – frequently gorging on – information, Johnson’s book points out. And it’s driving us to distraction – and killing us.
First, the physical dangers. Johnson notes: “In 2004, one physician coined the term Sedentary Death Syndrome to classify all the diseases that come from the sedentary state. The effects: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and yes, obesity. Some researchers are calling it the second largest threat to public health in America. What are we doing when we’re sedentary? Few of us are meditating. We’re consuming information.”
He continues: “New research points to sitting, especially amongst men, as a leading cause of death. Even if you exercise regularly, it turns out that sitting for long periods of time can be deadly.”
It’s also easy to lose track of time and lose control of time management while distracted by the free flow of information. Something unexpected or surprising or outrageous on the Web grabs your attention, and your carefully crafted to-do list for the day is shot to hell. And, relationships can be affected: “Just a quick check of email when we get home can often end up in evenings entirely lost to LCD screens…” instead of talking and paying attention to each other.
Then there’s the problem of “attention fatigue.” Writes Johnson: “About two years ago, I started to wonder: what the heck happened to my short-term memory? And where did my attention span go? I’ve written a little pithy 140-character tweet, sent it into the universe, and in no more than five minutes, I’ve received a reply. The only problem is, I’ve already forgotten what I wrote in the first place. I’ve had to go back, and look at what I said just five minutes ago to understand what the person replying to me is referencing.”
This book offers more dire warnings about consuming too much information. But the author also offers ideas and recommendations for achieving “Attention Fitness.” You can still have your information and consume it, too, in deliberate, conscious doses that are healthier for your mind, body and your participation in American democracy.
If you pay attention to this book long enough to actually think about what it points out and proposes, you may figure out how to get healthier again, how to regain your focus – and how to better understand the ways you are being duped by some of the misinformation constantly sucked into your head by your addiction.
You can become a more conscious and proactive consumer of information and not just another wasted – and life-wasting — data junkie.
– Si Dunn‘s latest book is a detective novel, Erwin’s Law. His other published works include Jump, a novella, and a book of poetry, plus several short stories, including The 7th Mars Cavalry, all available on Kindle. He is a screenwriter, a freelance book reviewer, and a former technical writer and software/hardware QA test specialist.