Clicks of Consequence

A new book, The Information Diet, argues we must make better choices about the news we consume on the Internet.We’re all overwhelmed by too much information in the new digital age. The cure for too much information is dieting, developing the discipline to restrict what we consume on a daily basis.

That’s the subject of a new book entitled The Information Diet, written by Clay Johnson, the founder of Blue State Digital. They are the folks behind the online strategy for the 2008 Obama campaign. Scott Simon of NPR interviewed Johnson last Saturday. (Click to listen.)

Johnson makes the case for more "conscious consumption" of news and information.

In playing out the diet theme, Jonson compares information overload to overeating. Johnson tells Simon: "Our bodies are wired to love salt, fat and sugar. ... Our minds are really wired to be affirmed and be told that we're right. ... Who wants to hear the truth when they can hear that they're right? Who wants to be informed when they can be affirmed? What we do is we tell our media that that's what we want to hear, and our media responds to that by telling us what it is that we want, and sometimes that isn't what's best for us."

Johnson recalls his experience working on Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign.

"I noticed that because of our media diet, we were consuming everything that was great about Howard Dean. Even after that scream incident in Iowa, we still thought we could win and that we would make it, and we went on to New Hampshire and South Carolina thinking that victory was just around the corner. That was when I began to see that we can get a little delusional in the world of politics.”

Johnson notes because of the Internet, we have almost universal access to everything that we need. But caution is needed. When you click on a story on the Huffington Post, for example, we are voting for that story to get more prominent display in the Post and online searches. The more we click on junk-food journalism, the more access we give to the trivial, he argues.

 “And that means that we have to make empowered decisions and informed decisions about what it is that we're consuming. It's the only way to sort of 'live right' online."

Johnson offers a slimming down strategy, something he calls clicks of consequence.

"Eat low on the sort of 'information food chain,' and stick close to sources…If it's an article about a bill in Congress, or even at a statehouse somewhere, going deep and actually trying to read the bill itself is really, I think, advantageous. “

“If we want to make media better," Johnson concludes, "then we've got to start consuming better media."