Johnson to talk media and consumption

By Meaghan Sands

This quarter, as part of the Information, Technology and Lifelong Learning Speaker Series, Clay Johnson has been invited to share his experiences and discuss ideas presented in his provocative new book, “The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption.”

Johnson will speak on Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. in Ursa Major of the BSC.

In his book, Johnson takes a new perspective on the way we consume information.

“The Economist” labels him as a campaigner for transparency and Johnson has been on staff for political campaigns, the most recent being for President Barack Obama.

In Obama’s campaign, Johnson co-founded the website that managed Obama’s political campaign.

One thing that separates Johnson from the rest of today’s authors is his fresh take on the issue of information in the media. Johnson’s book compares the information problem to obesity.

In an interview on National Public Radio, Johnson adapted food author and activist Michael Pollan’s phrase to aid in his metaphor.

“Seek. Not too much. Mostly facts. Eat low on the information food chain and stick close to sources,” said Johnson in an interview on NPR. “I think a lot of people don’t have great access to information and good information for sure, but also in the world of the internet we have almost universal access to everything we need. That means we have to make empowered and informed decisions about what it is we’re consuming.”

Johnson’s inspiration for this new outlook on media and facts came while working on campaign for Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and 2004 failed presidential candidate. He noticed the staff was consuming every bit of information that was great about Dean. Johnson then realized that even the most informed of us can be ignorant.

“Our bodies are wired to love salt, fat and sugar,” said Johnson. “We love it, because it tastes good, but our minds are wired to be affirmed and told that we are right and that’s the central premise of the information diet. It’s really: who wants to hear the truth when they are right; who wants to be informed when they can be affirmed.”

In an interview with NPR, Johnson recommends that people need to commit to no longer being taken advantage of by the media.

“The question is, can we make enough people go, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m done with the sensationalism of media,'” said Johnson “‘I’m done being taken advantage of by media companies so that I can have ads sold to me,'” said Johnson. “If we want to make media better then we’ve got to start consuming better media.”

An article from “Forbes Magazine” stated that the analogies between food and media are many and deep in Johnson’s book. Much of what we eat is processed by giant corporations designed to maximize profits. Most of the news we get is processed by media giants trying to maximize their profits.

“The most dangerous conspiracy is the unspoken pact between producer and consumer,” said Johnson in his book. “Information is no more autonomous than fried chicken, and it doesn’t have the ability to force you to do anything as long as you are aware of how it affects you.”

According to the CPP library website, Johnson’s main goal is to “create open source tools that give people greater access to government data” and thus empower them to make informed decisions.

Clay Johnson


Clay Johnson

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