Reflections are only that, reflections, nothing more nothing less. Often these reflections are related to books I read, but occasionally also other things. These are often written very late, very fast,  using notes from my mobile phone, so the grammar and spelling is horrible.

The Information Diet, by Clay A. Johnson

The book, or pamphlet, the information diet is really interesting as a phenomenon. The title is spot on and it is basically a carbon copy of the many diet books out there. Still, it is written as a Trojan horse and could be seen as the equivalent of the writing in the old communist countries where the authors where hiding hidden messages that where not allowed to be spread. I initially downloaded the book because I think the analogy between nature and the mind is interesting in relation to pollution. Too much of anything in the wrong place is not good and could be called a pollution. Clay A. Johnson looks at our bodies and compares the food intake with information intake.

But the book itself is however quite boring when it comes to the discussion about the ways we are becoming obese with information. 90% is just another book “10 tips for being more efficient” but with using the language of a diet. There are 100’s of books about this and many much better.

Then there is 8% that feels really sad. It might be best described as a call for ignorance and simplicity. While there are some nice points about being strategic (although nothing more than most people working on social change are well aware about) we have to suffer through parts where it is all about letting go of the big important things. Maybe it is meant to provocative in relation to the Washington lobbying crowd.

Then when you are ready to put down the book, you realize that it probably a very smart way to make the mainstream thinkers happy while including an appendix that is part of a transformative agenda. I guess it was this kind of simplicity message that got magazines like Forbes to write about it and highlight the stupidity parts and hopefully this will make the appendix read by more..

The Trojan horse is the 2% “hidden” in the appendix. I really hope the boring parts of the book are a strategy from Clay to bring out the appendix as it would be a good example of the kind of strategy that Clay promotes. “don’t let your entire career be about figuring out new ways to deliver advertisements. Even if it pays the bills, find an additional outlet to use your skills to make a difference. “

So the book itself is an example of how you can sell “crap” and use that work to get an important message out. Clay even took it to the next level as he used his simple book and attached an appendix with an important discussion to it. A discussion about the role of one of the most important group of change makers, coders/programmers.

Combined with info veganism based on a global ethics a focus on programmers can be an interesting next step for Clay to explore. And it will be interesting to see if this can help move the transformative role of coders into mainstream.

I have to end with one interesting point, especially from his background as a political communicator, that I hope will be discussed in the NGO community. It is the growing discussion about “digital activism”. Clicking on links as a way to show support is something that Clay don’t see much value in. While the issue is complex it is one of the more important in relation to building momentum for transformative change.

In the same way as big organizations often move in in areas where smaller organizations have been working for years (some time undermining the local work while taking media credit), this is the next step in simplicity when organizations gathering digital signatures claim “victories” that are even more shallow. Maybe some of the local groups and some of the big groups could explore ways to address the increased simplicity?

This “cyber simplicity” does not have to be bad, but if it undermines long-term work and give a new generation the illusion of change as something that happens by signing a cyber petition it is highly problematic.

PS This is what Forbes wrote about the book: ;)

“The nicely subversive message in the book is that we shouldn’t be sweating the big stuff like the budget deficit and the climate change. What is anyone individually going to do about that? Let’s instead change the ways government works, like getting our Senators to file campaign contributions electronically the way the House reps do it; let’s make sure federally funded scientific research isn’t locked behind pay walls; let’s lobby federal agencies to start using social media to solicit real comments for regulations.”

PSPS Here is Clay's webpage