Information Obesity: The web site

Image: book cover of 'Information Obesity'

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Who is this book for?

This book is aimed at undergraduates, postgraduates, teachers, staff developers... even parents... anyone who worries about the impact of ICT and information on their and their children's lives. Where complex ideas are used these are discussed from first principles, and can be used in teaching, and in everyday working and personal lives, with the help of the resources on this web site.


Information obesity is a failure to turn information into knowledge, and thus use it to sustain our minds, bodies, lives and communities. But just as physical obesity is not simply the result of too much food, so information obesity is caused by more than just "information overload". Also responsible are:

  • reductions in the quality of information
  • problems with mental "fitness", that is, a lack of skills, training etc. in the consumer of information
  • external pressures, whether from "information industries", peers, or organisations within which we work, to consume information before we have properly judged its worth.

Many writers have discussed the problems which are caused by information obesity. These include:

  • a lack of creativity and flexibility in graduates or employees
  • plagiarism at school and university
  • the "dumbing down" of TV and other media
  • counterknowledge, such as conspiracy theories, creationism, health panics, and so on
  • an increasing lack of privacy and state control over information, instead of individuals having control over the information which is important in their homes, communities, environments, workplaces and cultures.

Educational responses have long been proposed to the problems of how to sustainably create knowledge in an environment saturated by information. ICT skills education is one, as is information literacy. But these are limited.

First, they work mainly at the subjective or individual level. It is the individual user, learner or consumer who is expected to define their own information needs, find information online and then evaluate it. Second, education is itself part of the information production/consumption system, and thus is just as shot through with power relations, lack of openness, control over what information comes in and out, etc., as are other parts of our information society.

Information literacy, then, can suggest to individuals how they filter information and turn it into knowledge, but without a more critical approach, cannot show how much information is filtered out before it even reaches the individual - filtering takes place at higher levels of society, in our organisations and technologies themselves, which change the very way we think.

Information obesity reviews the nature of information as a resource, and through a historical discussion of ICT skills education, information literacy and the politics of organisations, concludes by outlining the educational and political solutions which may help individuals and communities regenerate their own informational environments.


  • Introduction. Information obesity and physical obesity. What this book is, and what it is not.
  • Chapter 1. Information as a resource in the environment. The biosphere and the noösphere.
  • Chapter 2. The different ways in which information is valued. Objective, subjective and intersubjective value.
  • Chapter 3. The Social Shaping of Technology - and information. Activity theory.
  • Chapter 4. A brief history of ICT. Vannevar Bush. Information overload. Ubiquitous computing.
  • Chapter 5. Literacy: from basic literacy to multiliteracies. Counterknowledge and conspiracy theories.
  • Chapter 6. Computer and information literacy: a history, discussion and critique.
  • Chapter 7. Social science: from positivism, through postmodernism, to a critical social science.
  • Chapter 8. Jürgen Habermas's ideas of system, lifeworld and colonisation.
  • Chapter 9. How organisations affect the way we think. Cognitive bias and "battery cognition".
  • Chapter 10. Information obesity and romantic understanding. Using narratives and stories in teaching about ICT. Creating the critical information consumer.
  • Chapter 11. Problem-based learning. Communities of practice and participatory design. Transformative learning.
  • Chapter 12. Connecting teachers and learners to the community. The role of parents and other community members in school. Emancipatory learning and social movements.
  • Chapter 13. Three examples. A local community problem. Informal staff development. Course management systems and top-down pressure.
  • Conclusion. The tensions within education. It's up to us.

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