Monday, February 09, 2015

The Information Diet Discussed

Comments on the book by Clay Johnson. The Information Diet.

Johnson’s basic premise is that we are so overloaded with information of such poor quality that our need to get away from it, limit it, and improve the quality of what we take in should be treated like going on a diet. We need to each reestablish our ability to find the true “facts” that relate to our life and society. We need a more traditional approach to obtaining knowledge that will give us a realistic picture of reality. He posits that postmodern media, and the technology they use, introduces bias and fails to provide a good view of reality.
Now on the question of too much information, one can hardly disagree. We hear of people walking into traffic and pools while texting, we hear of people disturbing movie viewers with smart phone lights and talk, and we even hear of people interrupting sex to answer a phone or email. We spend large amounts of time with email boxes filled with a few valuable messages among a lot of junk. These indicate trouble. He is right.
He does have a good hand on the problems of postmodern life. Information just exceeds our ability to take it all in. It becomes a race to try and do so. The more we try the less we truly get. To make it worse, media distorts information to make more and make it quick. To take our lives back by finding true “facts” the old fashioned way via our own research is laudable. This is all good in concept.
It is flawed in that he has gone in the wrong direction as to where to find those “facts.” He sees “facts” in an objective, scientific world that has never existed. All is subjective. Even a broadcaster that all agree is not subjective, has to edit news, thus introducing subjective values. Which news is important is not an element subject to some ultimate truth. This fact or story is relevant and this is not. That world does not exist. 
Nothing exists outside its societal and personal constructs. Experiencing something so simple as “black” cannot be interpreted outside its societal and personal references. Black is the color of mourning to some and excitement to others. It suggests death and the absence of color, yet can have tremendous meaning of a different nature as a element of race. It can be a mark of bigotry as well as a sign of a basic dress most women are in possess ion of and search for the perfect one. How can one be objective when people define even the words by different meaning in different contexts? 
Johnson suggests that if we only put aside the regular media and much of the new web media we will find “true” facts. His search for objectivity is only that he dislikes what he hears and assumes if he begins over with only self-discovered and research “true” “:facts” they will be objective, totally removed from the bias other place on them. Wrong. All they have is his subjectivity rather than those of others. There is no difference.
He makes this clear in his liberal bias. While he includes the liberal media, his wrath is hugely spent on FOX News. Because it is right wing it must contain bias. The left has bias too, but one has to read longer to pile up that sense in the book. Just where he goes with his plans suggests that with “true facts” one would take a liberal stance.
The question he refuses to realize is that FOX does not pick up watchers and readers because it offers something new to which one is converted. It touches a note in people’s own thought and world that brings them in. They see a world they do not identify with on NBC and ABC so they gravitate to FOX where the world is one they support. That world is as real as any other one. If one shares traditional values it must be that one has been sold these by charlatans. He fails to see that FOX has these values because people have them already. They find facts with truth there. They find a world they want no part of on ABC and NBC. 

The book is certainly a good read and restructuring one’s life to find better sources of more limited materials is a positive step to take. I have witnessed many students so devoted to their smart phones that one could see their grades flushing away, yet try and stop them and that they are addicted is the only conclusion one can make. Many need an information diet. But it must reflect their own world and not a new one that someone appreciates because it is his.