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We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

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It's Time to Go on an Information Diet

April 24, 2012, 12:00 AM

This stuff is about your health, not about productivity or politics or fact checking. I think that having a healthy information diet will actually make you live longer and having a poor information diet will kill you faster. 

                             – Clay Johnson


What’s the Big Idea? 

A 30 year old mother of eight died last week in New Zealand, due it seems to her habit of drinking 10-18 liters of Coca-Cola a day. Was she a person of seriously questionable dietary judgment or a victim of "malnutrition overload"? Well, Coca-Cola’s marketing department and the neurobiology of habit are powerful forces, but most people would agree that 18 liters of soda a day is just a bad idea.   

Yet when it comes to information, we sometimes talk as if our brains were already wired into the Internet, passive victims of a constant feed of random noise. We call it "information overload" and accuse it of sapping our productivity, attention spans, and general well-being. 

Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet, says you can’t rely on “the media” or the internet to control your information consumption. Yes, the explosion of cable television, online journalism, and social networking have resulted in a proliferation of new options. True, these options are sometimes dizzying. So is the cereal aisle at your local grocery store, but that doesn’t automatically result in your eating Count Chocula one day, Kix the next, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch the day after that. 


Watch Clay Johnson on why "information overload" is a misleading term: 

It’s obviously a matter of debate and personal preference which sources of information are “healthy” and in what dosages, but Johnson suggests a few pieces of software that have helped him to regulate his own information diet. They include Rescue Time, Sanebox, and Ad Block. (And no, he’s not a paid sponsor.)


 Clay Johnson suggests software tools for a healthy information diet:

What’s the Significance? 

Ethically and legally speaking, producers do bear some responsibility for the effects of their products. But 40 years of undeniable evidence that cigarettes cause lung disease haven’t managed to put an end to the cigarette industry. The neuroscience of media consumption is still in its infancy; we’re a long way off from conclusive evidence of the harmful effects of, say, watching too many reruns of the Jerry Springer Show. 

In the meantime, it’s up to us to use common sense and every available means – including sometimes shutting off our various glowing rectangles – to get the most out of our amazingly interconnected new world without losing essential bits of our humanity. 


From life-saving apps to cutting-edge military defense, Humanizing Technology will explore and expand the boundaries of what it means to be human, today and far into the future. 

Follow Jason Gots (@jgots) on Twitter

Image credit: Shutterstock.com





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