There seems to be a movement currently gaining momentum from the flurry of New Year resolutions, a movement on information consumption. Last week, I read about a noble and desirable goal to consume less and produce more. Consume 10%, produce 90% seemed to be the general metric. I aspire to that, but I know it’s difficult to achieve. This morning, on the train to London, the first thing I read is an article by Clay Johnson called “How to Start Your Information Diet“. There’s an accompanying book, also. Notable 2.0 space luminaries such as Gina Trapani, Tim O’Reilly and Ev Williams, amongst others, are looking to go on an Information Diet. What is an Information Diet? Slightly worried that I’m doing exactly what other people are trying to avoid (consuming), and wondering whether it’s a trap, I read the article.
Clay Johnson’s Information Diet is about reducing your consumption of information, and actively making time to produce. Resonating with the earlier goal, so far so good. The article tells you to cut down on TV viewing, and by use of certain apps and utilities, reduce the number of interruptions and temptations to divert you from producing: turning off notifications from your email system, Google+, Twitter, and the like. This is good stuff. After watching a Peepcode episode on managing your inbox (“Control Your Email Inbox” – recommended), I turned off all email notifications at work, and scheduled a thrice-daily email check, rather than have myself driven to doing it by a popup, interrupting my flow. It works well.
But there’s something about the general term ‘Information Diet’ that has me concerned, and has caused me to write this post (and therefore produce – win!). Yes, reduce your TV viewing (I don’t watch much anyway, and we don’t have satellite or cable). Yes, reduce your general browsing, and certainly try to move away from ‘continuous partial attention‘ towards ‘managed full attention’ (perhaps using Pomodoro or similar techniques). But don’t treat this like a typical diet. Just like your body, your mind needs energy, and what’s more, it needs feeding. With the right sources. Don’t think you have to reduce your information intake. Rather, make sure that the information you consume is protein, good carbs, fibre and the like. Last year I started to exercise in earnest again, and am consuming more than before. But I’m consuming the right foods – oily fish, fruit, veg, nuts, and so on. And I’m feeling pretty healthy on it.
Don’t worry about consuming less. Don’t worry about dieting. Concern yourself about the quality of what you consume. I have a Kindle, and combined with Instapaper, consume more excellent, stimulating, educational and thought-provoking articles than ever (here’s some background that goes some way to explaining my reading appetite). And just as my consumption of the right foodstuffs (with exercise) has increased my health and wellbeing, so my consumption of the right infostuff has increased my knowledge, and exercised my brain. Yes, certainly aim to produce more, but look to what you consume, rather than how much.