Must-Read Book: The Information Diet: A Case For Conscious Consumption By Clay A. Johnson


I’ve been working in Public Relations and Communications for over 20 years now. I find that it’s healthy to ask myself, at least once a week:

‘What is my job exactly?’

It’s not that I’m trying to force an existential crisis on myself, but merely that I think probing the heart of what makes us purposeful as communicators is essential.

I first read the information diet weeks after it came out in 2011, and it blew my mind. It also made me realise that our job as PR people is to change how people think, based on the information they consume. It’s a simple equation. In the main, this is information that we are responsible for creating. The easier we make it to consume, the better the outcomes for our project, cause or even the criticism we making.

In this book, Clay Johnson lays bare the modern dilemma with the consumption of information. You know how you feel when you have spent hours on your phone and you can’t remember a single thing you’ve read, listened to or watched. As I write this, my phone pings to reveal the average hours per day that I’ve spent on my phone this week. In a word it makes me feel ashamed. What am I doing with all of this time? How could I be spending so much time-consuming rubbish?

Johson shaped the digital strategy for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential election campaign. He is best known for directing Sunlight Labs at the government transparency operation Sunlight Foundation. It is an open-source community dedicated to using technology to promote transparency to transform government.

In this book, he draws a parallel between how the production of food was industrialised, which at once allowed for ever-greater efficiency and at the same time reined in an obesity epidemic. He argues that blaming the abundance of information itself is as absurd as blaming the abundance of food for obesity.

Instead, he proposes a solution that lies in planning a healthy relationship with information by adopting smarter habits and becoming as selective about the information we consume as we are about the food we eat. In the process, he covers the history of information, the science of attention, the healthy economics of media and wealth in between.

It’s a must-read to get a deeper understanding of why we consume the information we do, and how you, as a PR person, can be part of the solution and not just someone else chasing clickbait distracting people.

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