Americans Consume 34 Gigabytes of Information Daily, Report Finds

Americans absorbed a whopping 34 gigabytes of information per day in 2008, according to a report from the University of California San Diego.

A study from the University of California San Diego documenting the amount of information consumed by Americans last year found the average American consumes 34 gigabytes of information daily. Americans consumed information for about 1.3 trillion hours, an average of almost 12 hours per day. Consumption totaled 3.6 zettabytes and 10,845 trillion words, corresponding to 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for an average person on an average day. A zettabyte is 10 to the 21st power bytes, a million million gigabytes.

The estimates came from an analysis of more than 20 different sources of information, from old media like newspapers and books to new media like video games and Internet video. Information at work was not included in the report. This year's report, titled "How Much Information?", shows a much higher level of information consumption than a similar report in 2007, when just .3 zettabytes of information were consumed worldwide.

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. "More surprising is that information consumption in bytes increased at only 5.4 percent per year," the report summary states. "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."

The report, the results of which are based on estimates, found Americans spend 41 percent of their information time watching television, but TV accounts for less than 35 percent of information bytes consumed. Computer and video games account for 55 percent of all information bytes consumed in the home, because modern game consoles and PCs create large streams of graphics.

Another question UCSD investigated is the quantitative importance of the Internet and how much it contributes to information consumption. The report's basic finding is that the Internet provides a substantial portion of some kinds of information, but very little of others. Measuring with hours or words, the Internet provided a significant fraction of Americans' information, although less than television. Americans spent 16 percent of their information hours using the Internet (versus 41 percent for TV), and receive 25 percent of their words from it (versus 45 percent from TV). The Internet was the source of only two percent of our bytes (versus 35 percent for TV).

The report also noted two nascent developments, mobile television and Internet video, might also cause significant dislocations. "So far, mobile TV has low utilization and is very much a niche product. On the other hand, video by Internet is quite widespread, but as a complement rather than a substitute for conventional TV program delivery mechanisms," the report read. "YouTube and its cousins have made a huge variety of novel and specialized video material available to anyone with a mediocre broadband connection."