I feel like modern cultural pressures emphasise staying well informed through news and social media sites. But that can lead to an overconsumption of content that has a negative impact on our wellbeing and learning. In this context, the concept of “having a healthy ‘information diet’ means being selective about the information sources you engage with, avoiding excessive exposure to negative or sensational content, and striving for a balanced intake of information that aligns with your interests and goals. It also involves managing screen time and reducing information overload to maintain mental well-being.”
The term ‘diet’ typically refers to the sum of food and drink that a person consumes.
An ‘information diet’ is the sum total of the information that a person consumes on an ongoing basis. It includes everything we get from TV, movies, internet, email and social media. This is on top of what you are learning in your degree and through independent reading and research.
In the same way that we should be attentive to the food we consume (preferencing healthy options), I think we should also be mindful of the information that we consume.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we are influenced by the information we are exposed to. Few of us have the mental horsepower or bandwidth to critically evaluate all the information we receive. Thus, we are vulnerable to being manipulated, misled or confused.
Most of us are already aware that the large media and social media organisations are using complex algorithms to tailor the information presented to us, often for commercial purposes. We also know there is a negativity bias in coverage of current affairs. The effect this is having on your beliefs, opinions, and decisions can be hard to determine.
In recent years, I’ve played around a lot with the information sources I consume, with the occasionally competing goals of staying well informed on topics of interest to me AND maintaining my overall wellbeing. Too little information and I feel disconnected. Too much information and I feel overwhelmed.
But it isn’t just about the total amount of information. It is also about the quality, packaging and sources of that information. For example, when it comes to information related to health and wellbeing (my professional area), I have been trying to prioritise actionable information (e.g. protocols) from trusted sources (i.e. health practitioners or researchers) via channels I can consume more easily (e.g. podcasts). It has been a process of trial and error, and whilst I certainly have not developed the perfect wellbeing information diet, I am much closer than I have been in the past.
Significantly reducing overall time spent on social media and traditional news outlets – negativity, tribalism, anger, selfishness and frustration seem to dominate social and traditional media. Many sites rely on traditional income sources (e.g. advertising) so their content is designed to draw you to their site (i.e. clickbait). The more time I spend on them, the more negative about humanity I feel and the worse a person I become (tribalist, closed minded). I have thus reduced my overall social media and news consumption through a number of means – particularly deleting accounts and apps. I do remain a fan of https://www.abc.net.au/news
Subscribing to health/ wellbeing newsletters via email – email might seem old school, but I have to spend a lot of time in email anyway, because of the nature of my work. Thus, I have subscribed (and unsubscribed) to many email newsletters relating to health and wellbeing over time and have slowly pulled together a set that deliver me interesting and relevant content. I regularly review my subscriptions to weed out ones that aren’t providing me ongoing benefit (a digital declutter if you will).
Refining a library of podcasts on topics that are of specific interest to me – podcasts are one of my favourite ways to consume content and I have built a collection of podcasts that I listen to on morning walks that cover the kinds of topics that I am interested in. One great thing about podcasts is the ability to consume whilst doing other activities such as exercise or housework.
Paid subscriptions – I recently joined Huberman Lab Premium and am strongly considering doing the same over at Peter Attia‘s website. When you find people creating content that fits your needs, consider supporting them through membership or Patreon support. This allows many creators the opportunity to build content in a different way to having to rely on advertising or corporate sponsorships.
Having a place to save content like Pocket – https://getpocket.com/ is a browser add-on and mobile app that allows you to save articles for later reading. I don’t always get to go back and catch up on content I’ve missed, but I know it is there when I have some mental space to consume something relevant.
Books and research papers – getting a lot of news and information from social media and websites gets us used to our information being presented in smaller chunks. Issues can be over-simplified in the process. But important issues like health and wellbeing and the future of humanity typically require longer-form consideration. Research papers and books generally provide a more direct line to current evidence and practice in different areas. I know you probably have to deal with a lot of books and papers as part of your studies, but there is a reason they are preferenced over other media types.
These are by no means the only methods:
✅ You can explore alternative news media sites that seek to correct for different biases. Examples include Ground News, Solutions Journalism (brought to my attention recently by a colleague), and Human Progress.
✅ Set limits on the time and frequency of checking news and social media. For example, you could limit yourself to 30 minutes a day or check only once in the morning and once in the evening.
✅ Take breaks from information consumption and engage in other activities that nourish your mind and body. For example, you could read a book, listen to music, meditate, exercise, or spend time with friends and family.
Whilst my wellbeing information preferences will be different to yours, I do have a (reasonably) regularly updated list of the key resources in my information diet. You might find some of them useful also.
What newsletters, websites, podcasts or blogs have become part of your everyday life?
Is there room for you to improve your information diet?