Healthy Information Diets are about Quality, not Quantity

When I first started researching The Information Diet, I researched the modern food diet, and came across the grandfather of the modern western diet book: William Banting. He wrote the Letter on Corpulence and created the first “fad diet” in modern western culture. One particular passage that didn’t make the book still struck me:

It’s funny how we somehow lose this notion today when we talk about diets in a popular context. The word “diet” often comes with a dreadful connotation that means starvation or excessive limitation, but the truth is that if you’re eating fried chicken every day, you’re still on a diet – just a poor one. Same thing with information: you don’t need to buy my book to be on an information diet. You should buy my book to be on a better one.

With information, we seem to have taken the worst concepts of dieting and applied it to our habits. Somehow an information diet meant throwing away your blackberry, deleting your Facebook account, or taking a “social media fast”. This kind of stuff isn’t healthy dieting, it’s anorexia. Banting had it right – we need to learn the skill of selectivity and choice, not the skills of banishment and avoidance. Nobody’s getting obese eating too much raw broccoli.

Our information diets are required to be much more diverse than our food diets are – whereas a college student in June and an accountant in April may require very different information diets, the food that keeps them healthy is roughly the same. That’s why the Information Diet is about habit building, conscious consumption, and measurement and not about telling you specifically how much to consume or what specifically to consume.

The first important habit you need to build to have a healthy relationship with information is measurement. The important thing to do on an information diet is to measure what you’re consuming, and then to start making decisions based on that data – those decisions should usually be to consume more of the good stuff, and less of the bad stuff.

Secondly, there are the important skills you get – the ones I describe in further detail in the book. Cultivating your data literacy to be able to delve deep into source material. CodeYear is a great commitment to make in this regard – learning how to write code will give you the skills needed to sort and look through data.

Finally, it’s about making some decisions about what to consume. And honestly this is the toughest thing for me, as an author, to recommend. My grandmother, for instance, read the bible every day, and I’m convinced that while it was the only book she ever read, she read it more than 1,000 times. I’d never suggest to her that she stop reading the bible – that’d be wrong. Instead though, I might encourage her to dig deeper into the source material there, and go beyond the King James Version.

There’s a distinct lesson we can learn from our food diets here, too. Generally if you abide by a local diet that avoids processed foods, you’re going to end up eating healthy. Same thing with information: if you stick to the source, and constantly try and get closer to it – while at the same time avoiding the stuff that’s highly crafted to cater towards your basic instincts, you’re going to have a much healthier information diet.

Just worry about consuming more of the good stuff, less of the bad stuff, and setting aside time to produce and you’re 90% of the way there. And don’t sit too much.

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