Wednesday, December 26, 2012

New Year's Resolution-Information Diet

I've read a lot of books and articles about the effects of information technology on the brain and society.  The ones that stand out for me are: Is Google Making Us Stupid by Nicholas Carr, Net Smart: How to Thrive Online by Howard Rheingold and the most recent one I've read Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption by Clay Johnson. 

I found Carr's argument compelling because I have long believed that deep knowledge of content is important and that deep learning is discouraged in the information age. I've watched Students apply their Google skills to nearly every academic task without learning anything and this unfortunate habit has taken over higher education and the professional workplace as well, a point made in the Golden Globe nominated movie, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

With Rheingold, I found his book incredibly challenging and comprehensive. I took pages of notes with the intention of developing some instructional units on various chapters. Um, well, I haven't gotten very far on that project, which may have something to do with the points made by Clay Johnson in his book. 

Johnson's point is encapsulated in the metaphor about diet. Over-consumption of food makes us fat. Over-consumption of information makes us stupid and unproductive. A variety of nutritious foods is necessary to keep the body healthy, the way a variety of information sources of high quality will keep the brain healthy. Junk food and junk information are both equally addictive and must be avoided. It's a message I certainly took more personally than Carr and Rheingold. I'm definitely guilty of information over-consumption and I certainly need to curtail my over-indulgence in consumption and focus more on production, that is writing and activities that help build communities and relationships. Of course if I succeed in doing that, I'm contributing to this problem in others! 

Currently, I have 4 email accounts, a Facebook account, two Google+ accounts (one for work and one for persona) and I'm responsible for 2 Twitter accounts. Additionally, I spend anywhere between 10 minutes and an hour reading news articles about world events which I have absolutely no control over. With the Smartphone, iPad laptop and desktop computer time combined I probably spend between 1 hour and 3 just reading over feeds and I'm not including the time I spend communicating the other direction.  That time, being spread out through the day does not equal the total cost of information over-consumption. It takes time to switch tasks and focus on productive activities. Therefore, I should wonder how it is I get anything done! 

The other main challenge of Johnson's information is to avoid the echo chambers of opinion's that are in sync with our own. Confirmation bias has left most people blind to different perspectives and hindered the quest for accurate information, aka the Truth. Since reading the book over month ago, I've definitely avoiding the time-sucking pitfalls of reading opinions and analyses that I'm inclined to agree with and actively sought out fresh perspectives that actually challenge my thinking. That's the reason I still subscribe to National Geographic in print. It's one of the last mainstream publications with an editorial policy not entirely decimated and dominated by political or commercial interests. When I read this good old magazine I know my horizons will be broadened each month. The reason I don't read it on the iPad is because of the many other distracting information sources available with a single-touch that don't conform to the high standards of National Geographic.

In our era of vicious partisan disagreements, where otherwise good people can't seem to find common ground and solve problems, I think Clay Johnson's little book would do a lot of people and our beloved Democratic Republic a lot of good! The author himself is a former political operative that had an epiphany and learned the importance of living outside of the bubble that the Internet creates for so many users.

In the school library world, we no longer have great influence via the non-fiction materials we select as students mostly take to the Internet for their answers. Our primary concern has to be teaching habits of mind that help young people cultivate the ability to manage time, consider other perspectives and see past the petty, partisan propaganda that seems to dominate our media universe. As educators, its highly important we start with ourselves, and I appreciate Clay Johnson for coming forward to present the Information Diet, which is a great framework for starting conversations with colleagues, students and fellow citizens of all persuasions.

In the new year, I resolve to refine my information diet, and urge you to do the same. Make 2013 a great year!

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