The Information Diet

We all feel it. How do we keep up with this mountain of information gushing towards us each and everyday?

Hundreds of posts sitting unread in Google Reader, our PLN sharing dozens of shiny new links on Twitter & FB, forum posts, a new edition of your favorite journal published – the firehose goes on and on.

It’s that feeling that Alexandra Samuel refers to as FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. Shirky says it’s caused not by information overload, but filter failure, and the ability to manage this flow of information (or cognitive load management) is one of the essential skills future knowledge workers will need to succeed. So, just like the food we put into our body, we need to be critical and discerning with the kind of food we put into our brains.

This food metaphor forms the interesting premise of a new book by Clay Johnson called The Information Diet, which I have just begun reading (the physical book is due out early in the new year, Kindle version is available now).

What I like about the tact of Johnson is that it is not simply a rant against technology and social media, but instead is a much more holistic and, in my opinion, realistic view of information consumption. This balanced view is reflected in a recent blog post by Johnson on Facebook & Twitter.

It turns out that networks like Facebook and Twitter are perfect for consuming your socially proximate information. They’re not bad for an information diet, they’re critical to having a balanced one. But only if you use these tools smartly and proactively — by eliminating cruft, and consuming deliberately from these sources. Granted, spending the day on Facebook is not great for your information diet. But eating bowl after bowl of fiber-one cereal is probably not great for your food diet either.

Sure Twitter and Facebook are no substitute for being physically present with your loved ones, and having meaningful social interactions with them. But as long as you are deliberate about both (there are some great tips in the book about this) then you can use these tools to your advantage. So let’s not dismiss the tools because they’re technical, or out of some kind of strange generational preference. The problem is rarely in the medium itself and usually in either the habits of the user, or the system that supports it.

Reading this reminded me of the excellent Stillness in Motion session at this fall’s ETUG workshop, which I found immensely refreshing  and inspiring. Facilitated by Ross Laird of Kwantlen University, Brian Williams of  DIYDharma and  Scott Leslie  of  BCcampus, the session focused on how to be mindful about the ways in which we interact with technology.

Since that session, I have found myself asking a very simple question whenever I fire up my computer: what is it that I want to do right now? And I’ve found that asking this one simple question has made me much more productive when I get on. It brings my purpose front and centre, and I find I am less likely to get distracted down a rabbit hole when I take that brief moment to really clarify what it is I want to do before I mindlessly plug in.

Sure, I still find myself with a few dozen tabs open in my various browsers, email client up and running with constant notifications coming in, Tweetdeck firing away in the corner on my second monitor, but it is a start. And at least I find I am getting that one thing done that I wanted to get done.

I hope that The Information Diet will help me find a few more nuggets like that to make me a more concious information consumer.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out


4 thoughts on “The Information Diet

  1. Good follow on from ETUG, Clint. Although we keep touting the fact that we have information at our finger tips, and can find out what we need to know right now, it also comes at the expense of finding out a whole bunch of stuff we don't need to know. It's led me down some great tangents, I must say!

    I think for me it's more about connecting with the individuals who are sharing the information than about the information itself. I tend to pay more attention to the people who are mindful about what information they share, and usually it's a nice mix of personal nonsense and real gems I can use. As a consumer I rely on people as filters. And I make a conscious effort not to allow the loudest and most prolific individuals influence my consumption, a habit I've been working on my whole life!

    1. Ah, Sylvia. I knew this would resonate with you! Seems like this convo pops up between us every once in awhile in various spaces :).

      Yes, there is something quite magical and mysterious about those serendipitous discoveries at the other end of the rabbit hole, I have to say. And agree completely about the people we choose to connect with being more important (as evidenced by the good ones I'm connecting with right here :).

      I think I need to do some social network pruning in the new year and fine tune my networks a bit. Especially Twitter. I have this feeling (oh, crap – here we go with the FOMO again) that I am somehow missing the conversations from the people I really want to connect and converse with. I am finding that I am spending more time consuming, and less time conversing. More time grazing, and less time interacting.

      I'm also thinking of setting aside some time – literally booking it into my schedule – to interact with my network. I always love that Alan Levine has this week each year where he does nothing but comment on blog posts. Seems like a really good practice. Less loose ties and more stronger ones. Might be a good new years resolution.

  2. Great post Clint. I am fascinated by the concept of information overload and how we have become a society consumed with the need for MORE and MORE information. Don't know the answer? Google it. Found the answer? Share it on Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, Google+… so many great tools out there, but do we need them all… or I should say do I NEED them all?

    1. I like that you have emphasized the word NEED. It's such an interesting word that we use, isn't it? I NEED to do THIS THING.

      I've been thinking about that word, and the word quick for some reason, a lot lately and how I use it in my everyday speech. And I am beginning to realize that whenever I use the word "need", I am actually surrendering a bit of control – and the power I have to control – my own life. What is it I really need? When i say I need to read this article, do I really "need" to? What do i lose when I think/feel like I "need" to do things?

      Just babbling at this point, but I have a half baked blog post about the words "need" and "quick" (as in, I'm going to have a quick look at that in a minute) and how that colours our perceptions that is joggling around in my mind. Maybe not for this blog, but seems more appropriate for my Dad blog.

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