Fall 2010 Information Diet Exercise

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Information Diet Exercise Description

The Information Diet Exercise invites you to examine critically our choices and habits of acquiring information on a daily basis. The goal of the assignment is not only to increase awareness about our habits, but to ask what would count as improving our diet and to locate and select some publications and websites that will nourish those interests and needs.

As you start the exercise, you will need to establish some categories of information that makes sense to you given your personality and interests. The analogy to an actual diet is actually pretty helpful. There is probably a level of quality, diversity, and even "regularity" of information consumption that is needed for you to reasonably judge yourself a well informed person. As with food, there are lots of ways to satisfy one's informational needs. You can do this minimally, by following just a small group of sources that will keep you informed, or you can pursue a "maximizing strategy"; by which you try to identify a very rich set of sources, even though in practice your ability to check them may be limited. I recommend that you start with a small set of sources. It might be the bookmarks you already routinely cycle through when you're browsing. Then build additional sources around your specific concerns and interests.

The key to this assignment is to ask two sets of parallel questions, one about yourself and the other about the world of information sources. About yourself you should ask:

  • What are my strengths and weaknesses as a information seeker?
  • What topics do I have a natural appetite for?
  • Which topics are like "broccoli" for me?
  • Knowing this how can I choose the right sources and methods for staying informed?

About the world of information sources, you should ask yourself:

  • What should an informed person ideallyknow about today?
  • What habits of daily information consumption will move you toward the goal of being a more or better informed person?
  • Do your sources cover a range of news from local to global?
  • What does the reading level and rhetoric of articles in each source tell you about the readership and intellectual level of the source?
  • How would you assess the relative objectivity and balance of your sources?
  • If you were trying to balance your sources, what perspectives would you add?
  • If you were trying to deepen your perspective (e.g. a political perspective or just more depth of knowledge on a topic), what sources would you add?

The Information Exercise itself does not require you to write out answers to these question, but it does ask you to compile a list, as a wiki page if possible, of your primary information sources for various parts of your life. You can see a version of my information diet by following the link below.

Student Information Diets

Add a page link here to build at least part of your information diet list:

Notes and shouts about Information Sources

Here we'll gather loose notes and personal evaluations of specific sources from our diets. Try to add your in alphabetical order. Don't limit yourself to quoting the publication's description of itself, but if it's useful, cut and paste it with quotation marks.

  • BBC
  • Commentary [1] -- From masthead: "Commentary is America’s premier monthly magazine of opinion and a pivotal voice in American intellectual life. Since its inception in 1945, and increasingly after it emerged as the flagship of neoconservatism in the 1970’s, the magazine has been consistently engaged with several large, interrelated questions, such as the fate of democracy and of democratic ideas in a world threatened by totalitarian ideologies; the state of American and Western security; the future of the Jews, Judaism, and Jewish culture in Israel, the United States, and around the world; and the preservation of high culture in an age of political correctness and the collapse of critical standards."
  • The Nation [2] -- "The Nation will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred. (from The Nation's founding prospectus, 1865)."
  • The New York Times
  • Reason [3] -- "Reason is the monthly print magazine of 'free minds and free markets.' It covers politics, culture, and ideas through a provocative mix of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews. Reason provides a refreshing alternative to right-wing and left-wing opinion magazines by making a principled case for liberty and individual choice in all areas of human activity."
  • Salon [4] -- "Salon, the award-winning online news and entertainment Web site, combines original investigative stories, breaking news, provocative personal essays and highly respected criticism along with popular staff-written blogs about politics, technology and culture. Salon hosts two online communities, Table Talk and The Well, and is headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in New York City and Washington D.C."
  • Science News [5] -- "Science News has been published since 1922. This award-winning biweekly news magazine covers important and emerging research in all fields of science. It publishes concise, accurate, timely articles that appeal to both general readers and scientists, reaching nearly 130,000 subscribers and more than one million readers. Audible.com distributes an audio edition of Science News. News from the Science News reporting team also appears at www.sciencenews.org. Updated daily, this site covers all areas of science. Science News is published by Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to the public engagement in scientific research and education."
  • Spokesman Review