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As the chief of a company that is on the leading edge of tech information, Tim O'Reilly knows a thing or two about information management and beeping, pinging overload.

If you think your pulsing, beeping in-boxes and digital feeds are beginning to make you feel like TV's Lucy and Ethel stuffing candy in their mouths and clothes to keep up with a speeding conveyor belt, imagine O'Reilly's info glut.

It's why the idea of embarking on the newest diet craze for 2012 — the Information Diet — struck a personal nerve for the CEO of the Sebastopol-based O'Reilly Media.

"It's very easy to get caught thinking you're actually doing something when all you're doing is consuming information," O'Reilly said by cellphone from the road.

"It makes you feel busy but it doesn't actually produce anything."

The 57-year-old O'Reilly is one of more than 5,000 digitally connected souls who have made a New Year's resolution to go on an "Information Diet," making a conscious decision to become much more selective about what and how much information they're consuming.

It's part of a nascent techno-info push-back movement. Since the Internet opened to the masses in the mid-1990s, advancing technology has torn down the levees, bringing in ever faster and bigger waves of information, eating at our time, taxing our mental resources and even eroding personal relationships and health.

Meanwhile, social media, iPads and smart phones have increased the info delivery so fast that no one has even had time to think about what it's doing to our lives.

Sonoma State University Psychology Professor Mary Gomes for the past several years has been assigning students to engage in a week-long media fast each term to study the impact of media withdrawal on a generation that is connected virtually 24/7.

When she first began the project, which she is developing into a full research study, students were very wary.

But since then there has been a shift, Gomes said, with many students now actually excited about taking on the fast. They reveal that they've been realizing they wanted to change their media habits, she said, and are happy to have an excuse to get started.

A recent national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation health policy research group found that youths 8 to 18 years old spend more than 7.5 hours a day with TV, computers, video games and other tech devices.

"It feels like students have become disillusioned to a large extent with the level of engagement they have with the media...," said Gomes.

"Anyone can do their own media fast any time, but because it's so much a part of the fabric of our lives it's not so easy to decide to do this on your own. We need a social facilitation for changing it."

That's just what Clay Johnson is attempting on a global scale. The author of "The Information Diet," just published by O'Reilly Media, however, is promoting a more long-term lifestyle adjustment, with people rethinking their media habits and making healthier choices.

He maintains that it's not just the quantity but the quality of the information many of us are taking in that is weighing us down.

"2012 aims to be more filled with junk information than any other year in human history," said Johnson, who co-founded Blue State Digital, the agency that built Barack Obama's digital campaign in 2008, and who also worked for the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington D.C-based nonprofit that uses technology to make government more transparent and accountable.

Johnson likens the current information glut to our food diets — a lot of junk food that makes us feel full, but is sorely lacking in healthy nutrients. Part of that bad diet is information that merely echoes what we already know or believe.

"If we want to have a healthy information diet, we need to be actively aware that we are wired to want to be affirmed, just like we're wired to want sugars and fats and salts. That constant feeding of information is a survival instinct," Johnson said.

"But it doesn't work if we can only choose to be affirmed. No matter what crazy thoughts enter our heads there is some minor media outlet out there willing to tell you you are right. Who wants to be told the truth when they can be told they're right, and who wants to be informed when they can be affirmed?"

Johnson offers several tips for managing your media diet by tracking what what you're consuming, like counting food calories.

You could do that the old-fashioned way with a journal or by going high tech at RecueTime.com, which helps you track and manage where you go and for how long on the computer.

He also recommends eating "low on the food chain," seeking out primary-source information rather than filtered or media-packaged information. He likens this to the difference between whole foods and processed foods.

And just like the locavore movement, look for media close to home for issues and events you might have an impact on.

Finally, turn off all the beepers and buzzers notifying you of every text and alert.

"Get out from under the thumb of the notifications you've set up for yourself. There's rarely any difference between reading email now and three hours from now," he said. "Have a conscious relationship with information."

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.

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