information diets

Lately I've been thinking about nutrition. Not nutrition for the body, but for the mind. Not so-called "brain food", but the whole mix of food groups wrapped up in a popularized concept called “information diets”. Just as physical things you eat sustain your body, the environment, content, and people around us dictate our energy: classic media (news, articles, books, TV), digital media (anything else on the internet), conversations, communities, cities, and even the daily rituals and activities that tell us how we are feeling. More on this last gem later.

We can take an extreme argument here and say: information is like a drug. While the benefits of consuming information can be great with moderate, controlled doses, too much and your brain starts going haywire. You move from a driven obsession to an unhealthy addiction. You cede control over what enters your conscious mind, which gets even worse if it leaks into your subconscious. I'm especially guilty of this when I catch myself spiraling down deep rabbit holes — endless Substack pieces, YouTube videos, Twitter threads, you name it. It doesn't help that the descriptor attached to all of these sources are owned by big internet media companies, whose algorithms are optimized to suck your time, energy, and attention away.

This isn't groundbreaking news, and I'm definitely not here to admonish people for being consumed by the info vortex. There's probably a worse epidemic just next door, whereby we see people not being curious & info-seeking enough. I can acknowledge the accessibility gulf I'm creating with this piece too: while the average tech worker (or Very Online Person) has likely engaged with these sentiments before, the average non-techie is 1) not blasted with these kinds of ideas on the daily, and 2) are not always living in the quest for productivity-enhancing knowledge. That makes me torn on how concerning this information hazard actually is — I look around at my friends from university and I don't think any of them would share these worries.

But because I've found myself in these hyperactive communities, we continue exploring. Mindful curation is the antidote for mindless consumption, but how do we prevent this from sounding like every other productivity column and actually provide tangible spice to our life that's been taken hostage by “good content”? The self-help gurus will give the standard advice: “nourish your mind with thought-provoking content and consolidate your ideas with journaling”, “it's not only quantity of information, but quality", and “curate thoughtfully”. And all of this is totally valid — I'm the guy using a web app to catalogue all my Substack subscriptions and experimenting with new curation tools every other week, so I can't bash this either. If we look back at our inputs of information...

{classic media, digital media, conversations, communities, cities}

...we can see that only the first two have a strong negative spiraling effect, where you get locked in these overstimulation loops. Meanwhile, I'd argue that the last 3C's are more prone to being a net-positive, compounding nutrient source in your life: the more meaningful conversations you have, the more you get involved in your community, and the more you immerse yourself in a core city, the higher your rate of learning and stronger your resistance to conflicting narratives will be. It should be no surprise that I consider that to be key — conversations, communities, and cities have been my lifeblood over the years, despite the latter two still being works-in-progress!

But hold up, for the brave & the bold there's an even better hack that I've realized. Switch out the external information sources for an arguably richer yet more difficult channel to access: you. Your mind, heart, and gut provide lots of rich information about your perceptions, and while it might not be strictly “learning” in the conventional sense, it will for sure help untangle the cobwebs of confusion and chaos that plague us in this information era. That's really what this blog and my writing have been about, the idea of condensing and converting disparate pieces of information in one consolidated area through these pieces. That's why I always recommend my friends to journal or write whenever there's something to mull over or something to synthesize or something that deserves extra attention. Now that makes for a solid information health regiment, a virtuous cycle of input and output that nourishes the soul.

“What am I thinking? How am I feeling?"

Maybe that's what a vegan information diet would look like!

. . .

I'll leave this piece with an ironically hilarious collection of information diets gone wrong, through the lens of the massive troves of cognitive dissonance you can find online. Curated from fellow Vancouverite and Fosterati Rob Merki:

Appendix A: Cognitive dissonance loops & madness of the crowd
How's your sleep hygiene?You aren't waking up at 5 am?Sleep is for the weak. You need at least 8 hours of sleep per night. 
You aren't living a fulfilling life?30 is still very young. Take a staycation to save money.Life is shorter than you think.You haven't been to South East Asia?You're 30 and haven't created generational wealth?
Follow your passion. Screw passion — find a profitable niche. You don't have a hobby?Focus on your career.Work on something you love.Nobody actually loves their job.
Nobody cares about your college degree. Drop out. College is where you build your network. Just buy a course and watch YouTube.
You don't have a daily writing habit? Don't forget to rest. You need to start building an email list. You don't have a Substack?
How's your meditation habit?You haven't been on a silent retreat?You aren't reading books every single night?Warren Buffet is successful because he reads a lot. Here are 5 reasons you don't need to read that much. 
How's your productivity hygiene?Use the pomodoro technique. You can't plan for creative work. You don't have personal OKRs?
How's your note taking routine?You don't have a daily writing habit?You aren't building a Second Brain?You need to use Roam Research to connect your thoughts. 
Don't work for big tech. Working for big tech is how you make real money.You haven't applied for YC?Anyone can be a Founder. Being a Founder is too stressful — better off being an early employee.
The new startup hub is Miami. The serendipity of NYC is vital. The real startup hub is still SF. Why aren't you a digital nomad?
You're not in crypto?You don't own any NFTs?Join a DAO — it's still so early. Crypto is a pyramid scheme. 
You aren't fasting?You don't mealprep?You should eat every 3 hours.Only eat once per day.
You haven't read Atomic Habits?"Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become."What kind of person are you voting to become?Don't set goals — create a vision board.What kind of personal goals do you have for 2022?

I almost read this like a poem — a neverending yet lyrical representation of the toxic effects of information hazard. I love this because of how quickly this can literally happen if spend only 10 minutes combing through one small kernel of information. You can't carve out a good life if you‘re constantly being bombarded by information that you think you should need, but in reality, is dangerous for your own self-development. Too many people have been sold a very narrow definition of what constitutes a good life. Having an identity grounded in something higher acts as a counterweight against that. The “something higher”, religion or otherwise, becomes our greatest reservoir.

So maybe information veganism is found at one (or multiple) level of abstraction higher: tethering yourself to the teachings and insights from truthful, non-fungible sources.

Let's get healthy, one stream of consciousness writing piece at a time :)

Published by Sam (samwong) 2 months ago on Monday the 4th of April 2022.

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