I read Clay Johnson's book, The Information Diet: A Case for Concision Consumption. It's about something I'm passionate about: Reading the news is a skill. Without realizing how media is created and the incentives of different publishers, you can hurt yourself and become less informed.
Here are six things I learned from the book.
1. News organizations offer what you want to hear, not what you need to hear:
Just as food companies learned that if they want to sell a lot of cheap calories, they should pack them with salt, fat, and sugar -- the stuff that people crave -- media companies learned that affirmation sells a lot better than information. Who wants to hear the truth when they can hear that they're right?
2. This causes confirmation bias:
When we tell ourselves, and listen to, only what we want to hear, we can end up so far from reality that we start making poor decisions. The result is a public that's being torn apart, only comfortable hearing the reality that's unique to their particular tribe.
3. Too much news isn't the problem. It's how we consume news that's dangerous:
It's not information overload; it's information overconsumption that's the problem. Information overload means somehow managing the intake of vast quantities of information in new and more efficient ways. Information overconsumption means we need to find new ways to be selective about our intake. It's very difficult, for example, to overconsume vegetables.
4. Personalization of social media doesn't help:
Personalization is just a mirror that reflects our behavior back to us. While some might argue that the best way to make our reflections look better is to change the shape of the mirror, the fairest way to do it is to change what it's reflecting. We build filters around us with every friend we make, and every time we click. Without careful consideration, we risk throwing ourselves into more agnotological bubbles, and drifting farther away from reality.
5. We're all biased. We need to admit this:
Socrates' view on this was simple: Just accept your own ignorance as the only thing to be certain about. This view is important to keep in mind, and a healthy foundation for an information diet.
6. Use this thing you're reading on with caution:
The Internet is the single biggest creator of ignorance mankind has ever created, as well as the single biggest eliminator of that ignorance. It's our ability to filter that eliminates the former and empowers the latter.
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Contact Morgan Housel at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.