How do I stay sane on the information superhighway?

A month ago, I read an article written by Angus Hervey on Future Crunch with the title “The Information Diet”. It struck the right note in conveying the brutal truth: We are drowning in a chaotic pool of information.

As with everything in life, we can only truly process information through moderate input. However, it is so hard to control how information can come through to us. In fact, we receive new information mostly passively, through social media networks, TV and radio.

The Original Information Diet

This is when The Information Diet comes into action. It is a guideline on how we can keep ourselves informed and where we can find more trustworthy sources.

The Information Diet by Angus Hervey suggests that a healthy diet should consist of:

  1. Mindset = dietary philosophy aka “a central organizing principle” around which to create the diet
  2. Books = wholewheat grains
  3. Email newsletters = vegetables
  4. Podcasts = leafy greens
  5. Reddit = beans and pulses
  6. Specialist publications = fruit
  7. Social media = junk food

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Quoting Michael Pollan in “In Defense of Food”, The Information Diet encourages people to “eat” healthily and in moderation.

My version of The Information Diet

Before having discovered the article, I had already realized my problem with information overload. There were times when I found myself reading too many things, yet I could not remember a damn thing I’d read. I was overwhelmed by the amount of information coming at me through all angles: Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn newsfeed, newspapers, radio, email newsletters, etc. (luckily I don’t watch TV, or else it would have been another strain on my poor attention).

I felt like a rotten VW Beetle on the information superhighway.

During an episode of immense frustration, I decided to review all of my information sources. After all, we can never know everything because knowledge is infinite, so the least I could do for myself is to entertain my brain with the most relevant things.

I started by jotting down my problem zones aka things that annoy me the most, both in degree of frustration and frequency of disturbance. It came down to these:

  • I spent way too much time scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook newsfeed. I’ve already unfollowed all trivial pages and prioritized more “informational pages” by marking them as “see first” pages. Somehow, the better posts would run out in no time and I would go back to watching meaningless short clips and cracking up at countless memes. At the back of my mind, I knew I should stop scrolling and get real stuff done. In reality, I wasted hours every day just by lying in bed with my phone hovering over my tired eyes.
  • My addiction to checking emails is real. I can’t help but keep my mailbox all-read and organized at all times. Add to that a dangerously large amount of email newsletters that I’ve subscribed to, and you’d find me pulling my phone out to check for new emails every 10 minutes. Not only did I subscribe to advertisement newsletters from brands, but there were also informational newsletters, which I used to justify my overuse.
  • I felt like I don’t have time to read books. Even when I did sit down with a book, my mind kept wandering and I couldn’t concentrate.

Step 1: Tackle the Facebook newsfeed

I’ve been actively not checking my Facebook newsfeed since December last year and I must tell you, it’s hard (duh). I deleted the Facebook app on my phone a long while ago, so every time I want to access Facebook, I must do it on my phone browser. It helped just a little, because I was still binging on the newsfeed occasionally. The difference between an app and the mobile site is not as significant as I thought.

Until The Information Diet brought the Newsfeed Eradicator to my life. It is God in the form of a browser plugin, whose sole mission is to eradicate the Facebook newsfeed from desktop and mobile browsers. Users are still able to view posts and everything else when they go directly to the user profiles and pages.

The Newsfeed Eradicator is truly the saver of my dilemma. Now, I can freely check my FB messages without being lured to scroll for just-a-little-bit on the newsfeed.

Eternal feed-less bliss

Step 2: Unsubscribe to irrelevant newsletters

There have been newsletters that I found useful in the past. For example, I subscribed to my favorite fashion brands to know when sales were to happen. Nowadays, I don’t support fast fashion anymore and thrift most of my clothes, so I can’t see myself subscribing to fashion brands’ newsletters anymore.

Step 3: Subscribe to more relevant newsletters

Now, this is the most important step to take on my journey to staying sane on the information superhighway. This is the part where I set down boundaries to keep me on track. Over time, I’ve accumulated a list of newsletters which I find informative, helpful and interesting to read.

To avoid being in a filter bubble, I prefer a variety of newsletters from authors of different backgrounds. My interests are technology, productivity, psychology, philosophy, and climate change, so I make sure that I receive numerous opinions about the same matter before deciding my own POV.

Here are my personal favorites:


They really deliver what they claim. It takes under 10 minutes to go through the newsletter. All news are up-to-date and relevant.

TLDR is the first “techie” newsletter that I’ve subscribed to. I’ve recommended so many friends to check it out. The world that we live in is becoming increasingly influenced by technology. The digital transformation affects each and every one of us. Therefore, it makes so much sense to be informed.

Future Crunch

Of course, I have to mention Future Crunch. After all, it is where I found The Information Diet.

The team at FC introduces themselves on their homepage:

Future Crunch is a group of scientists, artists, researchers and entrepreneurs that believes science and technology are creating a world that is more peaceful, connected and abundant.

As a result, FC newsletters feature scientific and technology breakthroughs all over the world. It is nice to be reminded of the good things happening in a world where only breaking news can make headlines.

Dense Discovery

My inner nerd sang heavenly songs when I found out Dense Discovery – “a weekly newsletter helping web workers be productive, stay inspired, and think critically.”

Besides being abundant with useful information, DD itself is a beautifully crafted email newsletter in a very much friendly and readable format.

The header of the latest issue (Issue 41). I love it!

The Whippet by McKinley Valentine

At last, a worthwhile newsletter by a female author! McKinley Valentine is the woman whom I aspire to be. She writes eloquently and finds stuff you wouldn’t normally find on the internet. Her newsletters are a combination of her own writing and links to interesting stuff she’s been reading about, with absolutely zero mention of Trump or any other contemporary politics (her words).

Excerpt from the latest issue

There are some more newsletters that I subscribe to, but for the sake of this lengthy post, I decided to feature my most favorites here. If you are interested in knowing more or are looking for newsletters about a certain subject, be sure to check out The Information Diet article. You will find an exhaustive list of recommended newsletters.

My advice for beginners: Start with a few and slowly add more along the way. If you subscribe to a bunch of newsletters all at once, you may feel overwhelmed when your inbox is flooded with information. You can’t just trick the brain into acknowledging that reading these newsletters is good for you. It already knows. But upon a huge pile of information and potential overload, your brain will automatically protect itself by refusing to process anything.
Also, remember to keep your newsletters in check from time to time. If you stop reading a certain newsletter, be sure to find out why and unsubscribe if necessary.

Step 4: Befriend podcasts & audiobooks

This step is solely personal preference. Because I’m having trouble reading physical books, I turn to audiobooks to temporarily solve my problem.

I think that my attention ability has been damaged by my endless scrolling on social media, to the point that I can’t concentrate to read a few book pages anymore. While I slowly reintroduce my brain to long-form reading (by reading rather lengthy articles and newsletters), audiobooks are here to save the day.

BookPlayer UI on iOS

I don’t force myself to hear audiobooks all the time nor do I set any goals. I just listen when I feel like it. This mentality results in me voluntarily listening to an audiobook whenever I’m commuting, standing in line or running errands. I’ve been a productivity freak in the past, and boy oh boy did it mess me up. Nowadays, I know better than to force my brain to do stuff it doesn’t want to. Surprisingly, I can get more stuff done without feeling like I have to do anything at all. There are days when I just want to be a sloth, and that’s totally fine.
We are not our productivity.

Back to audiobooks: I prefer ones that are narrated by the authors because they certainly know the tone better than anyone else.

If you are new to audiobooks and don’t want to commit to a subscription service like Audible yet, there are many good audiobooks on Youtube to try out.
What I do: I download these audiobooks as .mp3 file, then listen on my phone via an app called BookPlayer. It’s super easy to use and doesn’t gobble up much precious battery juice.

We made it, friends! I’ve told you all my secrets in staying sane in a world that’s seemingly isn’t.

I can’t speak any better for the necessity of an information diet. We should stay well-informed and practice our critical thinking ability before the information flood gets ahead of us.

Between a skillful driver who stays on the right track, a careless driver who speeds and a miserable drive who blocks the way, who do you want to be on the information superhighway?

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