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One of the speakers at SXSW looking to plant his message firmly within the minds of those at the Interactive portion of the annual event is author and technologist Clay Johnson. He is best known for advocating open source information in making government data more transparent, but his latest project is the reason he’s on the schedule this year. Johnson has started InfoVegan.com and written The Information Diet, both of which focus on tackling the overload of junk information society is consuming.
Johnson believes that just as the industrialization of food brought upon mass obesity, so too has the industrialization of the media brought about a new kind of mass-ignorance that comes not from a lack of information, but from the consumption of it. He advocates investing time in addressing this “information obesity” and crafting a better “diet” that will in turn lead to a shift in focus to help fix the things that matter most in society. “Ignorance used to be something that came from a lack of information, now it can come from too much information,” Johnson says.”It’s sad that the greatest minds of our generation are focused on increasing click-through rates and not on the quality of the media being produced,” he adds. And so, just as one would approach trying to lose weight by eating less, Johnson believes in going on an “information diet,” using these steps:
1. Keep a media diary
Just as those trying to lose weight are often advised to keep a food journal, Johnson believes in keeping a media one, noting down what information is consumed in a typical day from where as a means to becoming more aware about one’s daily intake.
2. Schedule it
Johnson says he used to be constantly checking his phone. “My phone used to beep every few seconds, all day, interrupting my life to force me to look at some advertisement. Then I turned all notifications off. Now it beeps only when my wife calls.” He says we should make time for social media, like meals, but don’t over do it and “eat” all the time.
3. Subtract junk
“Be a conscious consumer of information,” says Johnson. “Seek information rather than affirmation of beliefs you already hold to be true.” For example, Fox News is news skewed to Republican viewpoint, while MSNBC is known for coming more from the left. Know this and filter out the bias that doesn’t serve you becoming a better-informed member of society.
4. Be a producer not consumer
Johnson believes in waking up everyday “like a maker.” Before you check email, go on Twitter and Facebook, he advises “creating what it is you create.” For him, he writes 500 words before 8am, but he says it can be whatever you create best — be that a painting, a new design, or music.
In this way, Johnson believes this information diet will create a healthier media that’s fueled by more than just calories from click-throughs.