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Guest column: Is Infoveganism the Next Fad Diet?

By on July 7, 2011No Comment

Recently in this space, I discussed the ideas of Rolf Dobelli, a Swiss novelist whose white paper “Avoid News: Towards a Healthy News Diet” struck a real chord with us at Basex. We found his ideas refreshing, logical, and compelling, and have made some efforts to apply his thinking to our work.

Dobelli’s thesis, simply put, is that information obtained via the news is extremely damaging to us on multiple levels, ranging from our ability to form complex thoughts to our physical health.  He argues that the news systematically misleads us and introduces numerous cognitive errors to our thinking, and advocates complete disengagement from all news sources.  Obviously, this fits nicely with many of the things we at Basex have been saying about the problem of Information Overload and its negative impact on knowledge worker productivity and effectiveness.

His perspective, although extreme, is not in isolation.  A new term has popped up that bears some examining, Infovegan.  Coined by Clay Johnson, a technology thinker and open source information advocate, the term describes anyone who “makes a deliberate decision to remove a vast amount of news and information sources from one’s diet, sticking to a well constrained allowable set of consumption inputs for their own health’s sake.”

Johnson centers his analysis of Information Overload on the perspective that the problem is not the amount of information, but the overconsumption of that information.  He points out that most people do not make conscious choices about what information to consume or not to consume, but when they do, they are subtracting information sources from their information diet in much the same way vegans cut animal products from their food diet.

The term Infovegan is not perfect in its application, and there are some actual vegans who object to the appropriation.  Nonetheless, framing Information Overload as a consumption and health issue by using familiar terminology (the term vegan) may be helpful for many people, and serve as a useful analytical framework to examine the harm that Information Overload is doing, as well as ways to deal with the problem.

When we are asked, as we often are, to give people tips and rules for reducing Information Overload, we stress that individual actions make a huge impact.  Vegans (the food kind) would no doubt agree and site numerous health and ethical benefits of choosing their diet and lifestyle.

Now, to be clear, we are not endorsing any particular diet when it comes to food (I’m a rib-loving BBQ enthusiast myself); however, when it comes to information, the Infovegan approach makes far too much sense to dismiss.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

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