For many, the start of a New Year signals the start of a new diet. This year, author Clay Johnson would like you to focus on how you consume information rather than food.
In his new book, “The Information Diet,” Johnson writes, “We know we’re products of the foods we eat. Why wouldn’t we be products of the information we consume?”
He notes that “in any democratic nation with the freedom of speech, information can never be as strongly regulated by the public as our food, water, and air. Yet information is just as vital to our survival as the other three things we consume… Our ability to process and communicate information is as much an evolutionary advantage as our opposable thumbs.”
The book focuses mainly on how information—particularly political information—is delivered by the media, and Johnson know whereof he speaks; he was co-founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed President Obama’s online campaign for the presidency in 2008, as well as director of Sunlight Labs at the Sunlight Foundation, where he was in charge of building open source tools to give people greater access to government data.
In the book, however, Johnson claims that information transparency isn’t the answer when it comes to how we consume the information delivered by the media. He describes an “aha” moment (a conversation with a well-educated protester) that made him “realize how futile that mission [giving people access to government data] was by itself.”
This, he says, is when he knew he would quit his job at Sunlight Labs.
He asks, “If unhealthy information consumption creates bad information habits the way eating creates food addictions, then what good is transparency?… You simply cannot flood the market with broccoli and hope people stop eating French fries.”
According to Johnson, transparency doesn’t amount to much when people refuse to choose balanced information over “affirmation and sensationalism.”
Which is true enough, as far as it goes, but if broccoli isn’t easily available, then what choice do people really have?
According to IDC, the amount of digital content available in 2012 will increase by 48%, and the vast majority (90+%) of it will be unstructured, a lot of it coming from social media sources. Social media are excellent communication tools, but they are generally not unbiased news sources.
The good news, of course, is that government organizations are stepping up to provide the public with easy access to the unbiased information they need to form opinions independent of media biases. Our recent Web briefing about President Obama’s call for reformed records management was our most popular Webinar ever, because government employees recognize that “technology can make records less burdensome to manage and easier to use and share.”
They know that transparency is important, and they want to deliver.
According to Susan Lesovsky, Application Support Manager at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, “Ultimately, our customer is the public, and our success is measured on how we provide and process information for them.” She goes on to explain how public portals, e-forms processing customized search options empower Colorado citizens to learn about how their government operates straight from the source.
Similarly, Long Beach City Clerk Larry Herrera explains, “Long Beach is dedicated to fostering and promoting open and transparent government where everyone in our community can easily participate and be engaged.”
So, yes, we all have a responsibility to follow Johnson’s advice regarding information consumption, which is: “Seek. Not too much. Mostly facts.”
But government organizations, too, have a responsibility to provide us with easy access to the facts we need to form our own opinions, and ECM tools tend to be a big help.
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