A healthy information diet is as important as a healthy food diet. Just as the world is changing our attitude towards obesity, Clay Johnson says we need to do more to encourage the consumption of good media.
Johnson, the founder of Blue State digital agency which worked on Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, started Webstock's first presentation today with a bit of audience participation. He asked the 850-strong audience to stand if they knew the name of a Kardashian, to which the entire crowd in the Wellington Town Hall stood. However, barely a soul stirred when Johnson repeated the exercise, this time asking if the audience knew New Zealand's poverty rate.
How are we meant to discuss these important issues if we don't know any of the important information, asks Johnson.
Johnson says advertising-funded media is under pressure to create content which brings in the viewers, without necessarily providing nutrition for the mind.
He points to a leaked AOL strategy document which puts revenue potential, traffic, and turn around time ahead of editorial integrity. It's not necessarily the media's fault, says Johnson. Consumers are being provided with the type of content they search for, and currently that's more celebrity news like the Kardashians and less focus on issues of social importance.
"Pizza tastes better than brocolli," says Johnson.
"Affirmation feels better than information."
Johnson's tips for a healthy information diet:
1. Consume media consciously
Every link we click, every story we share, influences the media about what it produces next, says Johnson.
By choosing to read and watch news about important topics, consumers send a message to news companies about what is important to them (and thus what will drive ad revenue in the future).
2. Schedule it
We live in a world where everything can be timeshifted, and attended to at our leisure. The downside of this is we now try to do everything, but nothing very well, says Johnson.
Johnson uses an app called Rescue Time, which helps him allocate his free time, and gives a dashboard for him to reflect about where he is spending his time.
3. Be a producer rather than a consumer
Every morning, Johnson writes a 500-word article. He says this helps him reshape the relationship he has with his mind, away from being focused on consuming content, and towards the enjoyment in creating content.
4. Enable the whole news movement
Johnson says consumers need to encourage their news outlets to provide better coverage, from closer to the source, but to support their efforts financially.
"Support media, not the advertising," he says.
5. Work on stuff that matters
The greatest influencers in history have been those who brought information to the masses, says Johnson. Scribes, lawyers, journalists, politicians, and now - tech entrepreneurs with access and capability to share knowledge with millions of people.
Johnson finished his presentation imploring the audience to be like his friend, the late Aaron Swartz who took his own life earlier this year, and share knowledge with as many people as they can.