Maggie Shiels

American infoglut

  • Maggie Shiels
  • 10 Dec 09, 09:10 GMT

Does your head ever feel like it is about to explode because of the number of e-mails you read, videos you trawl though, websites you browse, blogs you consume, programmes you watch, games you play and media you download?

In the States, Americans not only have a reputation for muffin tops and lardiness but it seems they can also add information overload to the count.

A survey just released by the Global Information Industry Centre of San Diego University reveals that households in the US consumed a mind boggling total of 3.6 zettabytes of data and 10,845 trillion words in 2008.

Zettabytes haven't exactly become common parlance yet and according to Wikipedia a ZB is a "unit of information or computer storage equal to one sextillion bytes." The university says a zettabyte is 1,000,000,000 trillion bytes.

Those explanations don't really cut it, but the brains behind this report have said it is equal to covering the continental United States and Alaska in a 7ft high stack of thick paperback novels.

The aim of this report called How Much Information is to look at all forms of American communication and consumption in a bid to create a census of the information consumed.

So where is it all coming from? Exactly where you expect as this graph shows.

Graph showing hourly information consumption

What is more surprising is that while I think I never have time to read books, it seems on average I actually gorge on around 100,000 words of information a day.

What the study says that really means is that all those words are hurtling headlong via various channels like TV, radio, the internet, texts, videos, tweets and so on.

In the age of the internet though it is the goggle box that is winning out.

People averaged around five hours watching TV and 2.2 hours listening to the radio. The computer comes in third at just under two hours, video games an hour and reading a poor and distant fifth place with just a half an hour of time.

Men working on laptops"The report is a snapshot of what the information revolution means to the average American on an average day," says report author Roger Bohn who is also the Centre's director.

Surprisingly gaming saw a big leap with 18.5 gigabytes per day for the average consumer - that's about 67% of all bytes consumed says the report.

In a piece of good news for all those social/casual gaming companies out there, the study notes that around 80% of the population plays some kind of computer game, including casual games such as my favourite, Bookworm and the like.

Mr Bohn says:

"Games are almost universal, but most of the gaming bytes comes from graphically intensive games on high-powered computers and consoles, which have the equivalent of special-purpose supercomputers from five years ago."

Gazing to the future, the Centre say the information landscape will change by 2015 thanks to the widespread use of HDTV, mobile TV and video over the internet.

The report acknowledges that as information consumption is expected to continue to grow, there are some real problems to worry about.

"What is clear is that we consume orders of magnitude more information than can be stored on hard drives or transmitted over today's internet," says Internet pioneer Larry Smarr and the director of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology.

"Even small changes in how Americans consume information would have serious implications for network planners and require large-scale investments."


  • Comment number 1.

    Does your head ever feel like it is about to explode because of the number of e-mails you read, videos you trawl though, websites you browse, blogs you consume,

    Yup. And don't get me started on Twitter, an addiction (to info tweets pertinent to my industry, not Ashton's shopping lists) I cannot shake.

    But... short of a short, I don't see it ever changing, and indeed as bandwidths increase and more seek and broadcast content am pretty sure it will deteriorate ever further.

    Anyone have the URL of 'Scanners' for me to download?

  • Comment number 2.

    "People averaged around five hours watching TV"

    Watching or just vacantly staring like a sheep at the TV, which just happens to have some dross like American Idol on it?

    Perhaps if there weren't so many non-studies such as this one people wouldn't suffer from "information overload", but then we do have the choice over what we do and don't read...

  • Comment number 3.

    The reason for the huge increase in bytes used for gamin are twofold. Firstly, there has been an increase in the number of people actually playing games. Whereas previously it was really only children and so-called 'geeks' who played games, now it is a huge number of people. Take Modern Warfare 2. Most of the people who bought this game would never consider themselves to be 'geeks' or 'hardcore' gamers but will still spend many hours playing the game, and a good many more playing online.

    However, the graphical details in modern computer games has increased at a huge rate. Partly because of Moore's Law providing us with computers that are what would be considered super-computers just a few years ago. Case in point: I have a ten year old Dell laptop that has a slower processor and half the amount of RAM present in an iPhone. It has 6GB of hard disk space. My current computer has that much RAM! Modern games can easily take up over 10GB of hard disk space with some extending to over 20GB.

    Personally I am surpised by the low score of recorded music. Everyone at some point listens to music, either in the car, on the way to work or at home. I probably listen to music for at least 3-4 hours a day, usually whilst doing something else at the same time but thats still a good percentage of my waking hours.

  • Comment number 4.

    It would be interesting to know how much analogue (real life) data was "consumed". The world around us is in the highest definition we can view, and ambient sounds and face-to-face conversations have the equivalent of a very high bitrate. I would guesstimate 80-90% of all information received is of the real-world type which would dwarf all the items identified in the research.

  • Comment number 5.

    Certainly agree with the above poster - I am an avid gamer, film-watcher, internet user etc, but I also receive a lot of information by word of mouth at work, from friends etc. Though it would be a near impossible task to quantify it all, it would certainly be interesting to see this source in comparison.


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