Book Review: The Information Diet

27Feb13

infodiet

Title: The Information Diet

Author: Clay A. Johnson

Genre: Non-fiction

Publisher: O’Reilly

Length: 160 pages

Library: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh–Main

Challenge; Library Books Reading Challenge 2013

Summary: An introduction to the concept of responsible information consumption in the digital age.

Analysis

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a heck of a lot of information out there on the magical interwebs. Much of it is useful, or, at the very least, entertaining. Much of it, however, is utter crap. And, more insidiously, a lot of it is invisible to you based on what biases you currently hold (and just about everyone, except saints and advanced yogis, holds them). What’s the average person who wants to stay reasonably well-informed supposed to do?

Enter Clay A. Johnson, who has a great deal of experience with these matters. Having dedicated much of his career to making good information easily available online, he adds to his long list of good works by contributing this short, useful book on how to be a better information consumer. Any librarians in eyeshot should take note, however: this book is not for personal use by you and your specially trained brain. This book is for your patrons who want to be a little savvier about her/his information consumption…and I wish one of our tribe had written it, because it’s a great information literacy teaching tool.

The genius of this book is that Johnson does easily and well something librarians have been trying to do for patrons since the internet showed up on our doorsteps: teach people how to use it wisely and well. Beginning with the magnitude of just how much information is out there, and what the obstacles to finding the good stuff are, Johnson moves through the many internal and external obstacles to being a good information consumer, using a strong extended metaphor of food and nutrition (he had me at “infovegan”). This reviewer was won over entirely by the namedropping of Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble, another amazing, layperson-friendly book about just what the heck is going on out there on the Wild West of the web, and how you can cope with it. Overall, it’s a book that strikes the perfect tone: educational without being pedantic, and informative without getting bogged down in citations (though he does include them, and they are good ones).

The book’s content is enhanced by its website, which actually functions as a useful companion to the print text (not something that always happens with book/web pairings, but O’Reilly’s great for that, as a publisher, so I’m not surprised here). The book section demonstrates that Johnson is familiar with other research in the field, while the tools section gives you useful, practical options for managing your online life. Check it out, explore the goodies, feed your head.

Overall, an excellent book. Its only flaw is its tacit assumption that everything not only should, but someday will, be online. This is somewhat ironic, considering Johnson’s decision to publish his work as a print artifact, but I’ll spare you all my rantings on this point. Suffice to say, print and digital can and should co-exist cheerfully, and this reviewer has done her duty in that regard by attempting to link the two in this analysis.

Recommended for: Library workers who teach information literacy, anybody overwhelmed by their online life, people who still care more about facts than celebrity gossip.

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