“Our media companies aren’t neuroscientists, nor are they conspiratorial. There’s no elaborate plot aimed at driving Americans apart to play against each other in games of reds vs. blues. … Through the tests of trial and error, the media companies have figured out what we want, and are giving it to us. It turns out, the more they give it to us, the more we want. It’s a self-reinforcing feedback loop.” —Clay A. Johnson, from The Information Diet
I recently finished The Information Diet, and I felt that the metaphor was the most powerful part of this book. Johnson’s assertions that our current informational climate serves us up cheap fillers in the way of celebrity news and downright unhealthy partisan rhetoric rang true for me. I have long been concerned about the issue of the Filter Bubble in which all the data that Google, Facebook, and more are collecting about us lead to all the algorithms only showing me what it thinks I want to see. Johnson’s Information Diet is a call to action against this and many other informational ills perpetuated by our networked consumption. The challenge issued is to approach consumption of all media in the same way we might approach healthy eating: recognize what is junk and stop consuming it.
I think this idea is even more important as a I am building my skills as an academic and researcher. In my field, and I suspect this is true among other fields as well, there tends to be a dominant paradigm (aka hot topics of research) that dominate the conversation. While it is important to know what resonates in our own field, it is equally important to consider what isn’t the “hot” topic. Today’s hot topic, after all, could be tomorrow’s disproved idea. Being open to divergent thinking not only makes me more able to better defend against critics, but also may open up new avenues of research I may not have considered staying inside my bubble.
At the same time, information overload is a very real issue for all of us. Here at Gradhacker we’ve posted before about being conscious about our consumption of this information: from Job Search issues by avoiding the Academic Jobs wiki and other bad Higher Ed news, to recognizing when it’s time to turn off or to stop looking for more articles.
The Information Diet was an easy read, but the website may be its biggest strength. A companion to the book itself, the informationdiet.com website hosts a blog, wiki, and community all dedicated to more mindful consumption of information.
What does your information diet look like? Share with us in the comments!
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Why pursue creative writing during grad school? Because playing with alternate genres can help your research: bit.ly/1WWvkw0