Information Overload

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Clay Johnson, founder of Blue State Digital, former director of Sunlight Labs at the Sunlight Foundation, and the author of The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption, talks about how to weed out the junk data and stick to a healthy diet of information.


Clay Johnson

Comments [20]

Avoid Play by Play News from Aim for Info with a LONG SHELF LIFE

Avoid "Play by Play" News and other information.
Aim for Info with a LONG SHELF LIFE.

Consider this, will you care about this piece of
information in a week, or a month ? How about
4 years from now, will it be of ANY use ?

Do you care about the Play by Play of the
announcements, ads, foibles and strategies of
people campaigning for the South Carolina for
the nomination in 2008 ? I don't think so.

So why spend HOURS going over it now as it
SLOWLY develops over DAYS. This is SHORT
shelf life information - kind of like the
details of last week's weather, or current
traffic reports in other cities.

"Play by Play" news is - unfortunately -
highly COMPELLING while it is happening -
because - like watching a Sports event
rather than watching the game summary at
It isn't the INFO that matters, it's the
EXPERIENCE of watching it unfolds which
is entertaining. PLAY BY PLAY is ENTERTAINING

This is also often true with compelling isolated
stories - good and bad - which can make up much
of day-to-day local news. A weekly or monthly
news and ANALYSIS is far more useful.

For example, in Foreign Affairs, look at ANALYSIS
of a country and region's history and politics,
and how it has developped over years, decades and/or
centuries. NOT in what happened TODAY in excrutiating
detail. NOT what might happen in the next hours or
days in excrutiating detail - WATCHING AND WAITING
for the PLAY BY PLAY news to happen - rather HISTORY,
DATA-Backed info, and ANALYSIS.

Similarly, with DOMESTIC POLICY issues - focus on
THE DATA-DRIVEN Long term observations, THE RELEVANT
THEORIES. NOT the individual talking points for the
day repeated OVER AND OVER AND OVER again.


IT will still be worth something tomorrow and next year.

Feb. 09 2012 10:00 PM
Steve from Sweet New Jersey

Would somebody please perscribe some right leaning or conservative supplements for my media diet? Here's what I normally ingest: On radio, NPR hourly main news, Lopate, and Lehrer almost daily. Fresh Air, On Point, and Tom Ashbrook's show once or twice a week. BBC World Service 5 nights a week. Print: Sunday NY Times and The New Yorker weekly, occaisionally America Magazine, The Nation, NY Review of Books, The Atlantic, and Harper's. No TV really, but some PBS via YouTube.
On the conservative side, The WSJ Editorial page usually gets me spitting tacks, and I've tried The National Review but to my ears it just hammers and hammers on what's wrong with Obama, Democrats, and liberals. I can't stomach the conservative radio guys. Where to go for reasoned, reasonable, right-leaning voices? Other than Reader's Digest's Humor in Uniform, I mean?

Feb. 09 2012 01:47 PM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

Great topic for a natural systems scientist. Thanks to Clay and you for bringing it up.

From a conversation systems view the "diet" idea really boils down to whether you're getting support for you views from "inside the loop" or by poking around the environment "outside the loop".

All cultures, whether it's the conversation network that created the housing bubble (that crashed our world), or social movements of any other kind, all are the creation of the "social circles" organized around loops of a self-affirming conversation. They're the source of all our common beliefs serving as our "cultural realities". That includes how we trust our affinity group for our personal beliefs, whether it's which God to believe in, having faith in "the infinite earth" or at least "infinite uncertainty" theory of endless growth. They're also the way people lose track of how to check "assumed facts" for themselves, either knowing how to find the sources or from their own direct observations. So in those ways, they're truly an "abandonment of reason" at the same time each person's affinity group is the center of our lives.

As suggested, it's both one of the core features of human culture, and a source of all the manias of human history. "Mania" is itself a word for one form of misplaced social reality, created and sustained by a self-affirming circle of conversation.

One of the enormous gaps visible today is between 1)the world consensus idea that "restoring growth" is the key to prosperity and 2)the physical certainty that an exceptionally broad range of our essential affordable resources are being exhausted ever more rapidly by that.

Feb. 09 2012 12:04 PM

I'm inclined to agree with Emma from Long Island here. I am an indiscriminate media consumer - I get it from everywhere. This is a noble message and many worthy points are covered here, but if you're not already self-aware of every single one of them then stay home in November because I don't trust your judgment.

Feb. 09 2012 11:46 AM


jaggerbuttz, you really just typed a mouthful.

Feb. 09 2012 11:45 AM

Isn't the root of "Twitter®", "twit"??

Feb. 09 2012 11:43 AM
Jane Griffin from New York

I believe the worst thing ever is news 24/7! We all need a break from the news, to digest what we read or hear, not bombarded.

Feb. 09 2012 11:42 AM
The Truth from Becky

Yah that was one of my favorite - "keep your government hands off my medicare!" about information overload? Just ask Roland Martin about tweeting every thing that pops into your head!

Feb. 09 2012 11:42 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Facts don't change people's opinions. People's opinions are shaped very early on in life, and rarely change UNLESS confronted by either good propaganda or some wrenching personal event. Generally speaking, most people seek out confirmation for their biases.

Feb. 09 2012 11:39 AM

I don't go on Facebook often, but got tempted back in due to a protest over censorship of Breastfeeding photos. This caused me to investigate the news sources. I spent more time than I should debunking breastfeeding myths on Facebook by putting up links to reputable well-researched sources of information. My posts were initially not well received so I took a lot of time to work through the issues. I did find out a lot about why some people are really shocked by normal infant feeding. This gave me ammunition when one of the major News networks asked me for a quote. Still, I spent too much time on this. So, I probably won't look at Facebook again for months. Interestingly, when I do go on social media website I usually am discussing issues where people have a lot of different viewpoints. Oh-- and when I do go on social media, my news consumption INCREASES.

Feb. 09 2012 11:38 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

And the point of all this so-called "social media"??? How did the human race ever survive and evolve without all this? (In fact, I wonder if it would have, had we had this technology millennia ago.

In many ways -- with so many so addicted to this stuff, the race is getting stupider. We are literally re-wiring our brains and not in a good way.

Feb. 09 2012 11:36 AM

"would rather be affirmed than challenged". Having ones presumptions turned on Their head is the great payoff for the actively intelligent.

Feb. 09 2012 11:36 AM
Inquisigal from Brooklyn

I read zero Tweets per day, and usually zero Facebook postings. I visit Facebook about once a week, on the weekends, to check in and see what people have posted.

During the work day, I have to focus on my job, and answering work and personal email and such, and even thinking about social media would add too much distraction to my day. In the evenings, I prefer to spend time with my husband and chat, see friends, do something cultural, exercise, or do my own reading online or in magazines and newspapers and use my own instincts to find articles that are interesting.

Feb. 09 2012 11:35 AM
Hannah from New York

I use social media to get information, but often find that it is self-referential in that a few people post new content, and then everyone else just re-shares it to their network. I find it very insular and it makes me kind of claustrophobic!

Feb. 09 2012 11:35 AM
Gina in Hoboken

Here's the secret: buy a Kindle, use it to surf the web, turn off the images and the javascript. It's like eating through a straw.

Feb. 09 2012 11:34 AM

Start local?? Local is FAR more likely to have untoward influences. For example, my local, The Villager, not only wouldn't publish my protest of their tobacco ads--ok, fine--but even DELETED my online message board protest, and all further objections to their deletions. How many other villagers protested? Who knows? Obviously we're not going to hear about it from The Villager.

Feb. 09 2012 11:32 AM
Jay from Brooklyn

Funny to hear this today. Just finished a 12 day media fast. No TV. No video games. No internet forums. No social media: twitter, facebook, etc. And absolutely no advertisements. Changes consciousness: my sleeping dreams, my ability to express mindfulness in my day to day activity, how I deal with challenging emotional states such as boredom, frustration, anxiety, anger and sorrow.

Still allowed myself to read books and watch our up to our 2 netflix DVDs a month. 10 minutes of work email, 60 minutes of radio news, ipod music for listening while working, and checking weather daily were permitted.

After a couple days of withdrawal, I ended up feeling great. Will be maintaining constrained media consumption after this.

Feb. 09 2012 11:32 AM
Emma from Long Island

I'm going to start the weeding by turning off this show. This has got to be the most unimportant and obvious segment ever. I'll tune in later when there's something valid being discussed.

Feb. 09 2012 11:32 AM
young li from nyc

Every social media member is a KGB agent in the making.

Social media is worse then Big Brother times 10.

And you have all these people that stair at their phones writting reports, none stop.

Feb. 09 2012 11:31 AM
John A.

There definitely is an addiction aspect to both food and Internet.
Hurry Up and get to the topic of identifying and ignoring distraction.
Daniel Moynihan died too soon. "We are all entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts."(IIRC) predated both Internet and FoxNews.

Feb. 09 2012 11:29 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.