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Drowning in an Ocean of Information    [Date Added : 11/04/2003 ]
Growing Internet, computer and telephone use is behind a huge rise in the amount of information people generate and use. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, estimate that every year 800Mb of information is produced for every person on the planet.

Their study found that information stored on paper, film, magnetic and optical disks has doubled since 1999. The study estimates that 18 exabytes of new information flowed through electronic channels such as the telephone, radio, television and Internet. The vast majority of this - 98% - was in the form of person-to-person phone calls.

One area that is gradually losing out to digital media is film. The increasing popularity of digital cameras and cameras was driving people away from the older format. In the years since the last study, the amount of images captured on film has declined by 9%.

The study also found that most of the information transmitted via radio and TV is not new information - the vast majority are repeats. Of the 320 million hours of radio shows, only 70 million hours are actually original shows. On TV only 31 million hours of the total 123 million hours of broadcast programs count as new information.

Paper is still proving popular. The amount of information stored in books, journals and other documents has grown 43% in three years. Professor Lyman said he was surprised that paper was still proving popular as a storage medium, but put its resilience down to the fact that a lot of the information generated on computer is printed out.

Professor Peter Lyman and his colleagues last carried out a study of how much information was being generated and where it was kept three years ago, based on data from 1999. The most recent study, based on data from 2002, has revealed that every year since then the amount of information generated has grown about 30%.

Most new information is captured on computer hard disks. In 2002 alone, about five exabytes of new information was generated by the world's print, film, magnetic and optical storage systems. By comparison the US Library of Congress print collection, comprising 19 million books and 56 million manuscripts, equates to about 10 terabytes of information. It would take 500,000 Libraries of Congress to equal five exabytes.

But even this figure is dwarfed by the gargantuan amount of information flowing through electronic channels.

The study also revealed an image of the average amount of time people spend with different sorts of media. It revealed that the average American adult spends 16.17 hours on the phone a month, listens to 90 hours of radio and watches 131 hours of TV. The 53% of the US population who use the Internet spend more than 25 hours online a month at home and more than 74 hours on the Internet at work.

The researchers point out that this means we are accessing information media 46% of the time.

Peter Lyman
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