The term “information overload” is a misnomer. At least, that’s the angle Clay Johnson, co-founder of Blue State Digital, promotes in his new book, The Information Diet. Instead of blaming quantity, Johnson draws parallels between our consumption of data and our eating habits: “We don’t say that an obese person is suffering from food overload – it’s not the food’s fault!” At a time when determining strategies for filtering gold from the stream is increasingly important, Johnson’s argument could be one worth listening to.
My favorite analogy of Johnson's is narrated in the video below, which sums up the idea behind the book nicely: “The fried chicken isn’t making and purchasing itself and flying into people’s mouths. Blaming the information is equally as absurd.”
Johnson asserts that our misguided blame is the real reason why we haven’t yet been able to solve our information, not because we lack the proper tools. In fact, he compares relying on information management tools is to trying to go on a food diet by buying a different kind of refrigerator, or trying to become a professional athlete by relying solely on the purchase of running shoes.
From this point of view, it’s not about managing the information – it’s about managing our consumption of it.
Healthy Habits, Healthy Mind
Since the book’s release, a number of experts have hopped on the same thought train, including Tim O’reilly of O'Reilly media, who says, “Time is a precious resource. You don't get it back. Thinking through what you want to produce as well as what you want to consume, and how much time you'll allocate to each activity, is a good start.”
According to Johnson, this kind of balanced information diet takes a combination of habits, from plugging each activity into a daily schedule (don't worry, e-mail can have more than one time slot), to adjusting your alert settings, to integrating the right tools into your workflow. Some examples are:
AdBlock Plus: A browser extension for Google Chrome, Mozilla and Safari that puts an end to tracking and banner ads.
RescueTime: A web-based time management and analytics tool for knowledge workers. Available for both Windows and OS X.
BlockPlus: A Google Chrome extension that kills Google+ notifications.
SaneBox: An app that filters your Inbox by separating e-mails according to their importance. Compatible with GMail, Yahoo, AOL, Outlook and IMAP e-mail providers.
Enhancing the Effort
Of course, as ZDNet's Oliver Marks notes, the way we discipline our information consumption depends on our individual needs around work, so contribute to the conversation by letting us know what kinds of behaviors you practice to temper the flow.