What Massive Data Consumption Says About America

The average American consumes 34 gigabytes of information per day from print, radio, television, and the Web

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Thirty-four gigabytes doesn't sound impressive for a new computer these days, but when you realize that's the amount of information a report estimates the average American "consumes" each and every day, it's staggering. If you add up all the words consumed by Americans, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, it would be "the equivalent of covering the continental United States and Alaska in a 7-foot-high stack of Dan Brown novels." The report's authors at University of California San Diego's Global Information Industry Center calculated not only Internet consumption, but all "flows of data delivered to people" from print and TV. Bloggers interpreted the findings in myriad ways, but concurred that it was an impressive illustration of the "information era." Here's what they said the report and the study behind it proved:

  • Old Media Still Rules Numerous writers acknowledged their surprise that the study shows the "old-media" sector made up of TV, radio, and print media still dominating the majority of Americans' total media viewing time. CrunchGrear's Nick Deleon voiced a predominant strain among bloggers: 
This may be a dagger through some of your hearts, but 'old media' (TV and radio) make up 60 percent of all consumed hours. The word “Twitter” does not appear in the report at all. Call your congressman…Americans are also on the computer for an average of two hours per day. It’s safe to say that everyone here at [Tech Crunch] isn’t 'average' in that respect.
  • Game Time, All the Time CNet's Don Reisinger notes that the study results show Americans are now more than ever a nation of button-pushers: "If bytes are the standard by which American days are judged, it's the video game that takes the top prize. Researchers found that the average American consumes 18.5GB of gaming data per day, representing 67 percent of all bytes they consume daily."
  • We're Still Literate, In a Futuristic Sort-Of Way… BBC tech blogger Maggie Shiels makes a clever analogy between rising rates of obesity in the country and our intake of information. However, she thinks that there is a surprising glimmer in the report: "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." Andrew Moseman at Discover is heartened by the same bit of news, saying if anything, Americans are getting more literate:
The UC-San Diego study reaffirms what we already knew about print media—that it’s steadily losing readership. But words themselves are doing just fine, thanks to the Web…Overall, words are being consumed at a breakneck speed: In the span of five days, the average American consumes more words (via reading and hearing them on TV or radio) than War and Peace contains.
  • Drowning in A Digital Tidal Wave Sadagopan Singam, blogging for Enterprise Irregulars, takes the report very pessimistically. He thinks it shows America's increasing dehumanization by way of digital immersion: 
Clearly, in this world, there is just too much of information.…A large fraction of the people one interacts with are walking around with their eyes glazed, seemingly on auto-pilot, speaking a mile a minute about this blog they read, this documentary they Tivo’d, this video they saw on the Net, this new startup company that’s hot.
  • Just the Tip of the Information Iceberg Om Malik, founder and namesake of the blog GigaOm, argues that while the findings of the study and the methodology used are interesting, what is more compelling is the fact that they are only poised to increase exponentially in the coming years:
One of the reasons I’m so intrigued by its findings is because I believe that the big growth in data (and information) consumption is not behind us, but ahead of us. Just imagine when there are billions of smart edge points: smartphones, e-readers or entirely new Internet content consumption devices. This is going to be the single biggest challenge — and opportunity — of the coming decades. It won’t be long before zettabyte becomes yet another word we learned on our way to a world that is drowning in data.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.