The Clarity Diet – information consumption in the bingeing age

Illustration of a face made from fruit vegetables and grain

By Matthew

· 10 min

We live in an age of self-quantified fitness, with every step and every heartbeat measured.

Where we pore over the provenance and purpose of the content of our fridges.

Of holistic health science, diet optimisation, and fitness customisation.

And why?

Because we want to feel good. And these tiny decisions about how we treat our bodies result in health, comfort, and ease of conscience.

But when it comes to how we treat our minds – and in particular the content and experiences that we put into them, it’s so often a sickly feast.

A row of cup cakes as a metaphor for media consumption

We suspect we are in content bubbles, cut off from the real world around us – and yet we visit the same narrow news sources, day-in, day-out, to get the same hit of affirmation.

We profess a deep, underlying unease around social media platforms – and yet we keep spending more time on more of them, and behaving in ever more extreme ways.

We feel that the world is more dynamic and unpredictable than ever before – and yet we take less and less time to think about it, and where it might be going.

And as a result, we don’t feel good. We feel mistrust and suspicion of ‘The Media’ and ‘Big Tech.’ We resign ourselves to having no idea what is going on around us.

And in the search for better understanding, we gorge ourselves on an imbalanced and unhealthy diet of information, and totally lose track of the thing we were looking for in the first place – which is clarity of understanding.

And clarity, as you’ll know if you read this blog regularly, is my area of passion.

The Experimental Kitchen

I am a voracious information-seeker. The ability to find and connect sources of information, and turn them into practical wisdom, is the foundation of my practice and of my livelihood.

So over the course of the last month, I’ve been conducting a personal experiment.

I’ve been attempting a full transfusion of my media consumption, with new sources, new subscriptions, and cold turkey from some of my subliminal choices.

I’ve been creating and reviewing a broad log of my content behaviours – the time I’ve spent, and what it’s made me feel.

And I’ve written myself a set of interim conclusions on a personalised guide to consumption that is working for me – a good balance to give myself increased clarity.

A chef preparing food in a kitchen

The Conclusions

These are conclusions for me, not for you. This is a personalised consumption plan. But it might be relevant for you too.

1. Create a balanced diet

In my mind, I’m a person with a balanced perspective on news and politics, a large and diverse set of cultural interests, and a healthy scepticism about hype and hysteria.

In practice, I realised that my information sources were almost entirely UK based and from self-avowedly liberal organisations; that 95% of what I was reading was politics or sports news; and that in practice an entire day’s news consumption could be hijacked by a trending topic on Twitter (or a week, if it was Dominic Cummings).

None of those things are essentially bad, but for me that’s the equivalent of eating nothing but cheap sweets.

If you want to develop your knowledge and understanding in areas that you love or need to know about then perhaps that should be a much more intentional process. Set and search out the categories and the topics that matter the most to you at the moment. For me in the last couple of months, that’s global politics, music, contemporary business strategy, cultural history, sea swimming and fictional depictions of time travel (for very specific reasons.)

If any of those topics are high velocity or have a high tendency to bias (ie politics, not sea swimming) you have to create a balance of perspectives – not meaning reading any old trash, but ensuring that you have regular access to a source of provocation that will question your assumptions. Reading the alternative view won’t only make your perspective richer or your opinions more robust, it will encourage you to think harder about where all your information comes from,

And this isn’t just true of media consumption – it should also be true of organisational decision-making, of creativity. Actively seek diverse perspectives on diverse topics related to your theme. Understand who those perspectives are coming from, and why they have them.

Various platters of healthy snacks as a metaphor for healthy media consumption

2. Know your provenance

If you are welcoming any kind of information source to regularly set up camp in your consciousness, it makes sense to know a little bit about their standards, their values, and their biases.

As a history student, I was obsessively taught about scrutinising sources, so it should be second nature. But nonetheless, when the flow of information is so relentless, so ubiquitous and so often divorced from context, it is extraordinarily hard to turn off the filter that you should have with you whenever you view a piece of information – who has produced this, and why?

The fact is that bias is absolutely inescapable. Obviously, seeking sources with high standards of evidence, editorial oversight and integrity unlocks the first layer of trust. But even for the most well-intentioned and well-governed organisation, to understand its content in the right way you have to know its leanings and its tendencies.

For example – the economic model has a fundamental impact on any editorial product.

– If any organisation is highly dependent on voluntary donations and payments, it becomes at least partially a cause, and therefore its natural intention is to campaign, and therefore to only represent one side of some arguments.

– If an organisation is dependent on online advertising revenue, it requires units of impact to sell, and therefore will drawn towards prioritising topics by page views.

– If it is owned or partially owned by an oligarchy, formal or informal, it will at least partially exist to protect and promote its friends and their business interests.

– If it is an affiliate, it will create desire for products as an integral part of its editorial fabric.

None of these things should be a bar to consumption, or make that organisation redundant. In the right hands, all models are extremely valid. But these underlying motivations are always present and should help you to filter your perspective.

The conclusion that I have come to is that for me a paid-for content/media relationship, with a company you can easily find out about is the best one, because the motivations are the easiest to understand.

Signs showing a range of fairtrade coffees available in a coffee shop

3. Get closer to the raw ingredients

Just as people in the 1980s got used to processed food, everyone has got used to processed information.

The raw materials of information – data and spoken-word evidence – are so unbelievably, chokingly abundant that it is very easy to give up almost entirely on absorbing them yourself – but to simply consume them as presented. Even though in reality before they reach you they are likely to have been selected, edited, modelled, spun and rephrased until they represent something quite different.

This is a tricky one. Every time you want to absorb a fact you can’t dig down into the raw data. Every time you are presented with an insight, you can’t go and ask hundreds of people whether it’s true. But the mere habit of spot-checking yourself – of reading a whole speech rather than the edited highlights…of watching a focus group rather than reading the debrief…of looking at a graph rather than reading the bullet points…can be incredibly helpful, and get you out of lots of trouble.

So, apart from random testing, how do you know when to get your hands dirty? Well I have learnt that the best moment is just as you get the surge of excitement and seeing something that you really agree with, or that really makes you angry. Take that energy, take a deep breath, and use it to either find some more raw data or do a bit of poking around.

The worst case is that you have some more and better evidence to support something you believed anyway. The better case is that you avoid being a well-intentioned source of misinformation or a target of postponed embarrassment.

The very best time to do this is immediately before retweeting something.

Fruit vegetables and eggs

4. Don’t just order what they’re having

I love building relationships with people. I love maintaining them over a long period of time. I love finding unexpected similarities between myself and others. So I love social media.

I also thing that social media companies are run not by shadowy evil geniuses, but by inventive, well-intentioned people who have stumbled across a world-changing lifeform and are by and large trying to help us make the most of it. (I also think that they are hopelessly under-regulated, under-governed and under-scrutinised, but that’s a different piece.)

However, using a social platform, whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok as your main window into what is happening in the world can have catastrophic unintended consequences.

These platforms are great ways at knowing what your tight and extended social groupings think, what they are doing, and sharing by reciprocation what’s going on in your heads and in your life, professionally and personally. Unless closely scrutinised or counter-weighted, they are appalling sources of understanding of what is really happening in the world.

In my extremely parochial world of marketing strategy I see a relentless flow of social participation, and its witty, inventive and interesting. It’s a great social club.

But at its worst you also see some strangely skewed and often quite doctrinaire arguments. Which is fine – everyone’s human – but if this is your main intake on your professional discipline your perspective must suffer over time.

A burger and fries as a metaphor for media consumption

5. Stop over-eating

The amount of time we spend ingesting new information, wave after wave of words and images and Zoom calls and thought pieces (sorry) has become absolutely absurd. And so much of it is trapped in the urgency of the now, absorbed at incredible speed.

Slow down.

I started my new information diet intending to switch my sources and change some habits – quite probably, in total, to read more, and more often.

I ended it by reading more books, listening to more long-form podcasts or journalism, swimming in the sea most days, carving out large areas of my diary for written or creative output, switching off pretty much all news feeds and alerts, and only using social media to specifically check in on friends or connect professionally.

I’ve become marginally less invested in the right now, and much more interested in the past and the future.

And guess what – I feel calmer, happier, more balanced, and crucially better informed.

If the objective is health, more food does not equal better.

If the objective is clarity, more absolutely does not equal better.

A seafood dish

Even if you feel this problem, the answers for you will almost certainly not be the same as they are for me.

But a more sparing, more varied, and better understood information diet is almost certain to be a big part of the answer.

Hook Strategy helps organisations to move forwards with shared strategic clarity. If you are an organisation seeking unified thinking, get in touch at or by calling +44 (0)7780 481717.

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