Why you don’t control your info diet and how to make one

Staying on top of the most recent community management and marketing information is difficult. A good information diet could make or break your ability to focus on what you need to know.

This blog will cover what information diets are, why you’re not in control of yours, and how to take your diet back for a more productive info diet that avoids burnout, even when you’re exhausted.

In This Blog

What is an information Diet? 

An information diet is simply the balance of different kinds of information you are first exposed to and then choose to, consume in your regular daily life.

According to Media Agenda-Setting Theory, the information you can consume is first controlled by your environment, and then out of those options, you make a choice to believe it, doubt it, or learn more about it, based upon your willingness to engage with it.

Information diets have changed rapidly over the past 20 years, and the reason may feel obvious at first blush, but to understand why the change isn’t quite as apparent as you think, let’s dive into how info diets work.

Information diets have 4 broad food groups:

  1. Passive-Effortless – Watching TV, scrolling Instagram, or consuming TikToks.
  2. Passive-Effort – Reading for pleasure, consuming news, or watching a documentary.
  3. Conscious-Effortless – Reading a how-to, catching up with friends, or playing a game.
  4. Conscious-Effort – Engaging in a hobby, >> work <<, classes, or homework.
Image: How does your information diet balance out? How much of each category are you consuming regularly? Passive Effortless, Passive Effort, Conscious Effortless, Conscious Effort?

How Have Information Diets Changed?

Information diets have been rather scarce for most of human history, but rapidly over the 20th century, libraries, public schools, and educational institutions became ubiquitous.

Initially, these institutions were the only sources available to find high-quality content, which built a kind of institutional trust in the validity of information. As new media formats such as radio and TV became commonplace, information became more and more accessible in everyone’s homes.

People’s info diets became more passive-effortless as information became freer. Access to crucial information was simple via radio and TV, and it came from only a few trusted institutions, so the personal effort required to filter and assess information became less necessary. People got used to passive consumption through the 90s, and we entered a boom period for public knowledge. Citizens in a globalized media landscape had to do little more than access a TV channel, so personal info diets fell in both personal effort exerted and quality of information. As a result, the role of news and journalism—who is allowed to provide information—became a critical lynchpin to democracy and education…

if you’re thinking, “then the internet happened…” you’re only half right.

It was not until the internet that information came unfettered from the media. One could purchase a domain and say anything they wanted. Confirmation-Bias, or the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs, could have become a big problem as blogs and biased news sources arose, but surprisingly, it didn’t. That was not until web 2.0.

From 1985 to 2006, in an internet 1.0 era (before social media), the internet was like the wild west. In order to find information online, you had to seek it out by going to specific domains—actively. Conscious-effort diets were required to consume on most of the internet. Institutional trust remained firmly in control of passive viewers’ diets on traditional media hubs.

Then web 2.0 happened, social media hit the scene, and Google became the media giant it is. The tone of the wild west and the internet’s more active info diets changed. Social media platforms became curators without responsibilities. We ended up with walled gardens, domains owned by people who curate the internet for you. These platforms served the same role as radio and television gatekeepers, but the information shared was never actually vetted. The platforms lacked the institutional filtering responsibility that made passive consumption on TV even somewhat ethical.

In a sick sort of paradox, Google and Facebook simultaneously defended a “free internet” while they also controlled users’ info diets based on narrowing behaviors: Who they had friended and what their habits were. This allowed them to sell cohesive audience profiles to advertisers that TV could never hope to match.

Suddenly, users were limited in their access to information in a digital world where information was infinite. And it all still looked like users had all of the world’s knowledge at their fingertips.

The Result:

Internet 2.0 had successfully automated media consumption without user input. They monetized your confirmation bias and commodified your information diet by limiting your interests, to their limited knowledge of you.

Due to the co-opting of media consumption habits, virtually all information diets on the modern internet are now ‘Passive-Effortless’ by design. User diets are now controlled largely by platforms with little to no personal agency. Very little personal effort is spent telling the platforms what you actually want to consume.

This has tragically led to…

  1. Media bubbles that isolate you from critical opinion-forming information,
  2. Reduced individual capacity to vet, assess and filter biased information,
  3. A growing sense of polarization in our cultural and political beliefs,
  4. A systemic breakdown of cross-party discourse and willingness to converse,
  5. Decreased empathy between social groups and across cultures,
  6. A breakdown of institutional trust between the public and expert spheres,
  7. With a viral spread of misinformation and the rise of alternative facts,
  8. Increased risk of social terrorism and recruitment to harmful conspiracy groups,
  9. And less—well—common sense.

So, How can you take your information diet back?

Do These 3 things to arrest control over your info diet:

  1. Revoke and turn off automatic rights to control your information diet on the platforms you frequent.
  2. Consciously find and automate your own dietary sources to feed you information, even when exhausted.
  3. Regularly challenge your diet when you feel like you’re getting too comfortable.

It always has, and will always be a fact that your information diet is not solely yours to control. But you have a right to control where your information comes from and how they deliver that information to you.  This starts with telling the platforms you frequent on a daily basis what you do and do not want. That means turning off-platform features that “guess” for you.

So, for the rest of this blog, we’re going to show you how to do it.

If you’d rather build an information diet in more digestible bite-size pieces though, we’ve built a 2-week information diet clean-up challenge!

Want to take control of your information diet?

Sign up for our 2-week, step-by-step information diet clean-up! In these 7 bite-size steps emailed to you over 2 weeks, you can build a strong information diet in your inbox, on your social platforms, and in your communities!

* This will not sign you up for our general newsletter. If you’d like, you can do so later 🙂

The most obvious 1st step is to set up your email correctly.

Have you ever subscribed to a newsletter, got invested, skipped a few emails over vacation, and suddenly you find them in spam?

That would be your inbox’s algorithm.

According to Richard Lindner at DigitalMarketer, over 20% of valid emails will never reach the recipient by design. Meanwhile, people are checking their email up to 20 times a day, and they’re exhausted. 

The email provider’s job is to make your inbox worthwhile for you. They are streamlining what communications you give your attention to.  In other words, the inbox is literally an information diet algorithm. That inbox’s automatic filters are meant to get spam and promotional emails out of the way. But when did you last set that up? When did you last tell google what you did and did not want it to filter? 

The first thing I did to arrest control of my info diet was to get rid of my automatic boxes and filters. The second thing I did was audit the inbox manually. I marked actual spam as spam for a few days, so the filter actually knew what I wanted. Third, I unsubscribed to everything that came through over 3 days that I did not consciously want in my inbox. 

This took conscious-effort to do. I had to physically make this change to my environment. But doing so let me customize my filters, so when I did automate my inbox (step 3), it did what I told it to. Every automation was my choice, leaving me with a single inbox of organizations and communities that deserved my full attention, on a schedule I could predict.

Bonus: It also gave me a stronger understanding of who had my email information and why.

The second step is to modify your social media algorithms.  

Do me a favor.  Go to your Facebook account (even if you don’t use Facebook, just humor me). Go to your account > Settings & Privacy > Settings > Ads

Take a quick look through that list.  Is that you? 

Because Facebook thinks it is. Not only are ads being generated with those interests, but to keep you clicking on ads, they’re serving “relevant content” along those lines. They’re even adding your friends’ preferences to your list because you discussed it once. From news articles and blogs to your friends’ posts, Facebook shows you only the information it thinks you like.

Now there’s a myriad of problems with this, but the biggest one is… 

This list DOESN’T degrade over time. 

That means that Facebook adds information, but without manual input, Facebook won’t remove interests unless you tell it to. No user could reasonably be expected to clear out over 700 interests that Facebook is clearly wrong about, one by one, regularly.

Truthfully, they rely on you not having that time.  

So, to solve this problem, I recommend setting up Facebook’s privacy settings, your browser’s privacy settings, and your search history not to provide this information. 

Then, take some conscious-effort time to clear out this list once you’ve made sure it won’t grow. 

You’ll want to repeat (and google) how to do these similar steps with all of your social media platforms.

The easiest way to prevent that list from growing is to use a few tools: 

Your preferred Virtual Private Network (VPN) and the Ghostery add-on (not sponsored) are great starts. Ghostery is like an ad-blocker on steroids. It’s popular among marketers because it provides an in-depth view of tags and cookies on sites, but that’s also useful for you. I also strongly recommend StayFocus’d, Clockify, and Undistracted – all chrome extentions.

Once you’ve combed through your email and you’ve made sure the walled gardens aren’t making your info diet choices for you, it’s time to start the actual personal curation process to get the information you actually want.

Find the right information, and Automate your diet

After you’ve made sure that walled garden platforms aren’t controlling your diet, you need to fill your information diet with a diverse plate of information to consume. Some veggies, some meat to dig into, and some well-rounded info-carbs, instead of the passive cake you’re used to. 

Let’s unpack this analogy. 

  • Veggies are Conscious-effortless content. The things you have to consume that you don’t want to consume.
  • Meats are Conscious-effort information that you really need to dig into. Industry reports, webinar recordings, coursework, or white papers.
  • Carbs are all-around passive-effort curators or news sources like Morning Brew, CNN, the Hustle, or slashdot.
  • The cake is the passive-effortless stuff you watch to relax and recharge, like TikToks, Instagram reels, or YouTube. 

Plan out what you actually want to see, and secure it

After clearing out your platforms’ automatic delivery systems, It’s time to start planning what you ACTUALLY want in your info diet. Set up subscriptions to specific information that you KNOW have value. Limit yourself to ONLY 1-2 of each of these types because you likely won’t read them all.

  1. All of your communities should be in one spot in your mail inbox. Go through your mail preferences for your community platforms to set up once-weekly digests on different days. Discord Monday, Slack Tuesday etc.
  2. 1-2 general news outlets such as NPR, Morning Brew, or Slashdot. Be sure these outlets cover news differently.
  3. 2-3 in-depth primary sources for your vertical. Social-scientific journals, the institute for public relations, CMX hub, DigitalMarketer Insider Newsletter, and Keystone Symposia are a few of mine.
  4. 1-2 specific thought leaders/influencers you’d like to “get in camp” with. I follow Jono Bacon, Richard Millington, and Mellisa Murgatroyd. (You could follow me ;D for starters)
  5. An educational community related to your industry but not your influencers. I’m in CHAOSS, for instance.
  6. A community you’re NOT a stakeholder in, where you can just be you. I’m in several motorcycle groups.

Once you’ve selected and subscribed to them, set up your email preferences with them so that you don’t burn out.

Automating your Information Diet

After you’ve spent a good several days to a week watching emails come in and you’ve weeded out what you don’t want, you should have a better idea of what the filters you want to make should look like.

Personal automation is the holy grail of information diets because it means not having to do arduous or difficult tasks when you’re not available to allocate time or effort to them. That means you don’t need to worry about “falling off the information diet wagon” because it will feed you information whether you want it to or not.

Unfortunately, automation also means re-introducing the very problem we’ve been working to solve, that made information diets in the modern world terrible in the first place. We just cleaned out our information bloated diet in the first place! 

In truth, there is a right way and several wrong ways to do this. What setting our own rules for engagement in the areas that matter most to you.

Here’s a few automation Guidelines that will help you make a reasonable diet:

  1. All of your current emails should stay on 1 screen. Don’t move them to other inboxes unless they are spam, trash, archived, or dealt with. Turn off those “tabbed” inboxes.
  2. Use email ‘tags‘ to categorize and then order content instead of boxes. Label them without moving your emails in to a box you’ll never check. Once done, you can also use these tags to archive them properly so they stay searchable. Later, you can do analytics on the tags. Changing the tags also changes the email positions with them.
  3. Build email filters based on tags instead of specific email information, so when you change a filter, it will apply to the emails tagged instead of specific email information that never stays the same.
  4. Build ‘negative’ filters into your tags so that your inaction or laziness is accounted for, your inbox doesn’t bloat over time, and cluttered email takes care of itself, but your actual emails are not impacted.
  5. Use Social media email notification settings on your preferred platforms to create a hierarchy of importance for what you should be informed of and what you are fine ignoring. Put them on weekly digests for different days and ensure your email inbox settings know what to do with these digests when they do come in.
  6. Turn off algorithm recommendations and passive streams on all of your social sites using timing and automatic censorship applications like UnDistracted, Clockify, and StayFocus’d (not sponsored).
  7. Build analytics into your information diet using tools like eMail Meter, google sheets, google apps, and google data studio, to get a top-level view of your information diet’s balance and regularly assess it (not sponsored). I will have a full blog on how to do that in the pipeline within the next month or so, so be sure to subscribe here!
  8. Set a regular time to Marie Kondo your info diet. Be sure to re-assess things as your information diet will get stale, too easy, or if you’ve missed a rule, too cumbersome. Always challenge yourself

Challenging your information Diet

The last and most important part of keeping a good information diet is always to challenge it yourself. 

When you start getting too comfortable or your diet isn’t providing value, make the tough choice to modify it. Information-Diets take conscious-effort manage. We use automation to expand what we can do, not reduce what is available.

An information diet that is too big for us, or is too easy for us to follow, is one we are giving upon. You need to examine yourself for the potential biases that your current information diet may cause. 

Here’s a checklist of things to ask yourself to challenge the information diet you’ve cultivated:

  1. Is this diet teaching me things? Am I still being challenged by what I’m learning?
  2. Do I feel overwhelmed by how much information there is? 
  3. How much time am I spending on this information diet? 
  4. How diverse is the share of voices I’m receiving from this diet?
  5. What is unfair or biased about the information I am receiving? 
  6. Have I drunk the kool-aid for these sources? Should I start looking for other voices? 
  7. Have I been too comfortable with the information I’ve received? 
  8. Am I having fun and being challenged in this information diet? 
  9. How much conscious-effort is this diet requiring of me? 
  10. How much passive-effortless information am I gathering? 

So what’s next for your info diet?

All of this information and these tasks can be difficult to implement. Like any skill, keeping a strong information diet is more of a muscle to be improved, stretched, and changed regularly.  It can be overwhelming to get started, just like a real diet, and you can rest on your laurels when things get easy. But it often helps to start with a regimen! 

So, we’ll lean on the infrastructure of traditional diets and provide you with a 14-day, 2-week clean-up! 

Subscribe to this email series to receive 7 emails. Each email will tell you to perform one task from this blog to improve your information diet, and by the end of these emails, you’ll have built the necessary environment and skills to manage an information diet that will help you succeed instead of overwhelming you! 

Want to take control of your information diet?

Sign up for our 2-week, step-by-step information diet clean-up! In these 7 bite-size steps emailed to you over 2 weeks, you can build a strong information diet in your inbox, on your social platforms, and in your communities!

* This will not sign you up for our general newsletter. If you’d like, you can do so later 🙂

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Venia Logan

I’ve spent the past 9 years learning the diverse skills necessary to create strong stable online communities that put your brand’s services at their center. ​​I started my own YouTube channel in 2010, and RESCQU.NET in 2013. I worked for Constant Contact, and returned to college for a specialization in online community management. Then I attained all 12 certifications from DigitalMarketer and helped dozens of communities. Spend fewer resources advertising to cold contacts or buying paid media and get back to focusing on what you love by growing a community that is financially and socially rewarding for you.