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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

December 9, 2009 at 12:08 PM

How much digital info do we consume? 3.6 zettabytes

Time to get a bigger hard drive.

Americans’ annual consumption of information is soaring, reaching 3.6 zettabytes in 2008, according to a new study from the University of California at San Diego’s Global Information Industry Center.

It must have taken them until the end of 2009 to count it all up. Americans consumed information for about 1.3 trillion hours last year, an average of almost 12 hours per day, including 3.6 zettabytes of data and 10,845 trillion words.

A zettabyte (named for T-Mobile spokeswoman Catherine Zeta-Jones?), is “10 to the 21st power bytes, a million million gigabytes,” according to the UCSD release.

Information consumed at work wasn’t counted — this is just things like books, newspapers, computer games, online video and satellite radio.

“We defined ‘information’ as flows of data delivered to people and we measured the bytes, words, and hours of consumer information. Video sources (moving pictures) dominate bytes of information, with 1.3 zettabytes from television and approximately 2 zettabytes of computer games. If hours or words are used as the measurement, information sources are more widely distributed, with substantial amounts from radio, Internet browsing, and others,” the release said.

Consumption is up from recent studies, including a 2007 effort that estimated “only 0.3 zettabytes were consumed worldwide in 2007.”

But the outlook isn’t good for words, even though Americans are now consuming about 100,000 of them per day.

“Taken together, U.S. households in 2008 spent

about 5 percent of their information time reading

newspapers, magazines and books, which have

declined in readership over the last fifty years,” the study said.

“From the perspective of the information measured in

words … printed media account for almost 9

percent of all words consumed. However, translated

into bytes, they barely register: two-hundredths

of a percent (0.02%) of (information consumed).

Other factoids from the study:

— Hours of information consumption grew at 2.6 percent per year from 1980 to 2008, due to a combination of population growth and increasing hours per capita, from 7.4 to 11.8.

— Information consumption in bytes increased at only 5.4 percent per year. Yet the capacity to process data has been driven by Moore’s Law, rising at least 30 percent per year. One reason for the slow growth in bytes is that color TV changed little over that period. High-definition TV is increasing the number of bytes in TV programs, but slowly.

— Traditional media of radio and TV still dominate our consumption per day, with a total of 60 percent of the hours. In total, more than three-quarters of U.S. households’ information time is spent with non-computer sources.

Forget the hard drive. Maybe it’s time for a break from the computer and TV.

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