How to develop a healthy information diet

I’m feeling fat, so I think it’s time to go on a diet.
Not literally. I feel I’ve made great progress over the past several months in my eating habits, but with my consumption of food under much greater control, it’s becoming time to take the reins and get my information consumption under control.
Apparently, we now live in the information age, and each day there is an overwhelming amount to consume. It is becoming clear that I need work on developing a healthy information diet. 
I have a tendency to go through cycles where I binge on the Internet, and then try to cut back drastically. It doesn’t seems to be the most effective method constantly flip flopping between reading and looking at everything in sight and trying to radically reduce my inbox and RSS feed subscriptions.
I’m thinking now I need to find a better and more sustainable balance between the extremes of binging and anorexia.
Where this will lead is the big question: What is information for?

You don’t have to starve yourself

First, this doesn’t have to be unpleasant. I’m not prepared to come out and advocate for myself or you a low information diet. This is partly because of how much I enjoy most of what I read and watch, but also because I think a lot of the information I consume does have its place in my day and value for me.
However, there is also the fries and burgers of my daily dose that I can probably do without. I have no plans to ever give up burger and fries completely, but they work well for the point I’m illustrating. Some foods are not as good for you as others. 
Finding the good ones that agree with you and denying yourself the pleasures of the others is difficult but possible. To be healthy, it is not necessary to outlaw the good tasting foods that are bad for you. It is over the top to only select fat free, low carb, low sodium, high fiber fare for each meal, but developing a healthy balance is just the ticket. 
There’s no right amount
There really is no clean cut answer as to how much information is the right amount of information. Again, this is very similar to any diet of food. The correct amount of information to consume depends entirely on the situation and the individuals’ desired outcomes. 
Michael Phelps has to consume thousands of calories per day while in training to be able to perform as he does. Models, such as Filippa Hamilton, don’t have the same luxury. They are after something else entirely.  
I’m sure the editors at Lifehacker have to have a very different level of information consumption to produce their massive site of useful information than that Leo Babauta needs to write his insightful posts for Mnmlist
The input for both of these examples is, I’m sure, in direct proportion to the desired output. One is not superior to the other. They are just different and are tailored to meet the specific needs. 
Balance is the key
The most important thing to find in developing a healthy information diet is the right balance. 
Information consumption is no different than eating in this respect. Everything that goes in must come in and be digested. Then, it will either be used or discarded. 
The correct balance is entirely dependent upon what you want to do with the information. If you’re a writer, you’ll want to consume everything you can about your subject so that you can write on it competently. If you’re an athlete, you’ll want to know about your sport so you can find your edge. 
Consuming too much information without proper digestion will lead to indigestion or waste. Neither is good. 
Three stages of an information diet:
1. Input: This is everything you read, see, watch, or listen to. This can be controlled by deciding what books you read, what shows you watch, which RSS feeds you subscribe to, and the music you listen to. This is also the part we only have partial control of. There are thousands of voices fighting for our attention each day. It is impossible to tune in to them all. It is also impossible to tune them all out. But it is possible to filter and highlight the things you want while blocking what you don’t.
2. Reflection: This is the step where you digest everything that comes in. This can include a song getting stuck in you head, a topic that inspired another idea or project or the simple enjoyment of remembering what you watched or read. It doesn’t have to be anything too deep. This stage of reflection is just the internalizing of what came in your mind.
3. Output: This is the final component of a balanced information diet. Everything that goes in will come out one way or the other. There is three possibilities in this stage. It can either come out in a productive and enriching way, go to your thighs, or it can simply be forgotten and wasted. Athletes use the food they eat to drive their performance. Couch potatoes don’t, and the end results are visible. Some information can also just be forgotten and lost forever. Hopefully it was enjoyable the first time around, other it was kind of pointless.
You are what you eat
Since everything that comes in will eventually come out, it is important to remember that you are what you eat. The information that you consume becomes a part of you. This can make you better or it can make you worse, depending on what you let in and how you use it. 
You can have a significant impact on your outcomes by wisely discerning and using what you consume. To do this you need to: 
  1. Know what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Decide what you need to know to achieve it, and ignore the rest.
  3. Learn to determine how to best use the information you receive.
  4. Adequately reflect on the information before acting on it.
  5. Act on what you learn.
Have fun
A healthy information diet does not have to be austere and boring. Some of what we eat can still be just for fun: a bowl of ice cream, a scoop of cookie dough. It’s the same thing with an information diet. It can be for it’s own sake, but too much will make you fat.  


I’m trying to reduce and simplify my inputs. I spent a lot of time the other day unsubscribing to feeds in my Google Reader. I’m trying to get more focused. I also took steps to reduce the number of bookmarks in my browser and programs in my system tray.

This is all in the interest of making technology a less noticeable part of my life. Don’t misunderstand. I love it and am not sure that I could live without it. However, technology is a tool and should be treated as such. If I can comfortably move it to the background and not give it as prominent of a place in my daily life, I’ll be able to free my mind to engage in other pursuits: really think and not just browse, which is what I have realized that I do with a lot of what I read on the web when I’m “computering.”

My personal goal is to make it more about the writing–the words and the language–and less about the technology and the medium.

I spend far too much time in mind numbing, thoughtless activity. I hope that this project can be a powerful force for change against that negative neurological waste. I want to be different and unique–like everyone else–and, like every other blogger out there, I think my blog will be the podium and platform by which I’ll be able to assert my uniqueness.

However, I understand that in this I am not alone, and I am happy for that. Instead, I get to join my voice with all the others. Maybe it will be a harmonious chorus of ideas, or maybe it will get lost in the noise, unnoticed. Either way, I’m becoming a part of it.

Unburdened technology

Technology brings many gifts to life. But it also bring many new burdens. The next step forward will be learning how to best integrate the modern marvels of technology, but to not let it get in the way. My question is how to let technology work in the background, to be able to benefit from it fully, appreciate it, but not have to think about it or let it get in the way.

One step is to figure out exactly how much technology is needed to complete a particular task. It is easy to upgrade to the latest version of a super sophisticated word processor, only to get so caught up in the new and improved features that you forget what the program was intended for in the first place.

I’ve reverted back to using notepad, a computer program that was probably less complicated to make than a pen and a pad of paper. (No offence to the programmer, but I’m sure making a pen and a pad of paper from scratch would be quite the accomplishment.) I’ve found just in this first post that I am much more focused on the words and ideas that I am writing, because I am no longer thinking about the other functions and formatting I’m sure I’d be exploring in any other situation.

A blog is a technical wonder in itself. But ideally, it can function as an effective medium to showcase the written word. This blog is rather advanced, I think. I probably bit off more than I can chew with the template, and the HTML I had to learn to work with it. However, now that it’s set up, I can forget about it and let it work itself. I know the few simple functions to make it look presentable and keep it up to date. This lets me now turn my attention to the content, where it should be.

Tools of the trade

I’m trying out a new tool for writing. Rather than using a complicated program like Word or Open Office, I’m now just using Windows Notepad. There are almost no functions or options, just a full white window with a blinking cursor.

But the software is only half the story. I’m also using an old Gateway laptop that I bough off a college buddy for $20. There’s no Internet connection or media player. Later, I plan to wipe the hard drive as well to get rid of any possible distractions. I want to have a tool that is entirely dedicated to writing.

I spent a lot of time over the weekend working on the look and feel of this blog, but now the focus has shifted. The most important item on the agenda now is filling the pages with compelling content that is worth reading. I could have the most beautifully designed blog of all time, but without that, I will not be able to attract or grow an audience.

It is likely that the first several posts on this blog will seem somewhat disconnected. This is part of my process of finding my voice. I am confident that after working for awhile that I will find that flow and rhythm that all good writers have. That, I don’t believe, are what my problem will be. Rather, as always, my problem will be thinking of what to write about, and having the confidence that my choice of subject is worthy of being read.

It turns out that my attempts to find a simpler method of writing is not without its drawbacks. In what was meant to be a distraction free environment, I’ve managed to spend more time figuring out how to get this dinosaur to recognize my jump drive and to recognize my plug in key board. The space key on the laptop is unreliable, and I’m not in the mood to back space over every few words.

However, I’m determined. I’m passionate. And nothing can stop me now that I’ve begun. The life of a writer is a difficult one, especially for a young father with a full time job that I’m dedicated to and a little family that I love, more than anything, to spend time with.

Finally, I figured out now how to both run my jump drive and my keyboard on this paleontological computer. I brought my brush and have scraped away the dirt, and now I am ready to go.

I have it set up now where I can comfortable type with my feet up, keyboard in hand, with my computer sitting comfortably at my side on the near by coffee table. This is a very comfortable way for me to write and to map out my ideas. I don’t know if it will bring me closer to being a writer or not.

But it seems like many writers have very peculiar habits, and need to have things just so to work. Maybe me too. Maybe I’ve found what I need to work effectively. I cleaned out much of the clutter, and I’ve tried to make it so my focus can be on creating something new without the constant distraction of things that are old at my fingertips.

Don’t Wait to Start

That big idea always strikes unexpectedly and with little warning. There is a flash of inspiration and the burning desire to act.

Recently, I had the inspiration to start this blog. It emerged from my memories of how I loved to write in high school and college. In high school I fancied myself a poet, and that continued through college, where I majored in writing. As a newspaper reporter, I felt right at home writing every day for a living.

Then I stopped. Apart from the occasional paper in grad school, I wrote almost nothing.
And now I’ve started again.

However, I’ve had to start again gradually. My day-to-day schedule is no longer that of a high school student and even less that of a college student.

I can’t drop everything in my life to follow on this urge. But I shouldn’t put it off.

The most important thing to do in a situation like this is to just start. Rather than sitting around and thinking about it, or even going through a detailed and scrupulous planning process, just start.

The details will come as they do and muddy up the original vision. This doesn’t have to halt or even change the original intention.

When you have an idea, act on it quickly before the initial excitement and passion gets drowned out by every excuse that arises.

Learning to Live with the Noise

My brain is a loud place, like a high school cafeteria, a constant clamor of activity screaming for my attention. It’s not that I have so much going on in my head because when it’s just me, I can hear the echo of a pin drop.

The reason for the noise is the endless stream of information pouring in through all five channels at once. Even sitting here writing this, there’s the sound of my son playing on his blanket and squirming around on the floor like a squid and singing in in experimental shrieks. and my wife on the phone giving advice to her sister.
But noise is not just sound. There is also the visual distractions of the content hidden on every other tab in my browser and window on my desktop. My curiosity of what I might find on those pages gets the better of me every few sentences.

All of this seems inevitable, and sometime uncontrollable for a young father of a new family in a small house. However, it doesn’t need to hinder what is happening inside. Life’s volume knob is always set at ten, but between the static and the flipping of the channels, peace can still break through, and I can still follow through on this idea.
The circumstance of life don’t need to change for me to change. Instead of trying to block out the noise, hide from it, or try to shut it up, I can embrace it, let it harmonize and let the music come through.
I’m learning to let the people around me come closer. Rather than trying to ignore the noise and distractions, I’m learning to let it be part of the work itself. By embracing my surroundings instead of trying to change or avoid them, I’ll be able to do more of what I love in whatever circumstances in which I find myself.

By indulging in a few distractions as the come up, I’m able to have the mental endurance to complete my work, and to finish what I begin. I’m undertaking an enormous challenge. I don’t know how it will look in the end or how the middle will be, but by accepting the first steps and getting started the rest will take shape with time.
Patience will not be optional or simply virtuous in learning to live with the noise. It will be the axle that supports and balances the whole load.

Are humans still evolving?

If they are, it’s at a faster pace than every before. 

The world is changing faster than ever. Or at least, I assume it is. It could just be my perspective. It’s not every year that I get married, move to a new state, start a new job, and have a baby.

But maybe it’s not just me. Maybe the gradual change has decided enough with the slow and steady.

Now it seems that everyone’s lives are moving faster and faster and becoming fuller and fuller. So much so that there has been an entire movement starting to go against the tide.

Blogs like Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits and Mnmlist are some of the more mainstream expressions of this sentiment.

People’s lives are changing faster than ever, and now is the time to slow things down before it gets out of control.

More of More or More of Less

It could very well be that my attempts to do more are misguided. It could, perhaps, be that I need to do less, that I need to empty my life of the clutter so that the really good things can shine through. There is so much noise that I find it hard to think.

This noise is probably my number one impediment to writing. Writing is thinking–recording and organizing thinking. The noise keeps me from thinking. That is what has stopped me. I need to begin eliminating the noise, piece by piece.
This might be a long process. But that’s okay. The end results will be worth while. I want to get to the point where I have more things to write about than I have time. Where I can truly devote myself to thought.
Over the weekend, I spent 45 minutes browsing around on the computer. After I was finished, my wife asked me what I learned. Honestly, I couldn’t remember a single thing I had looked at. This isn’t because I have a poor memory. I actually think I have a very good memory. But when I look without thinking, nothing will stick.
The mind is a fertile place, but if ideas are not given the opportunity to take root, they won’t stick. They’ll wash away with the first new idea that comes along.
Enjoyment comes from experiencing something fully. Not experienceing lots of things. If I can learn to find the right channels to experience, and block out the noise. I’ll be a happier person.
Things I want to experience more fully:
Everything in that list is art. Just in different mediums. Maybe that’s the thing. The enjoyment comes in art.
Appreciating art, taking it in slowly and enjoying it fully. This is a difficult thing on the internet. There is so much out there. It need to be slowed down, consumed bite by bite (bit by bit, since I’m on a computer) Slowing down and really observing will be the best way to learn what it is. Now how do I convince my readers to slow down with me and apreciate what I appreciate.
Really, before I can even begin to plan on drawing readers into seeing what I see.
This will take thought, real thought.