Measuring Information

How Much Information?

What did Americans consume in 2008? This is part of a larger project looking at information in general: On this page I will post some highlights, and answer questions that people have about our findings.

We have a lot of short reports on specific topics here, and our first long report just came out, which looks at American consumers (households) exclusively. You can read the Executive Summary and download the whole report.

We measure information consumed in three ways: hours, words, and compressed bytes. For example, we average about .7 hours (45 minutes) on the telephone per day:

Consumption of information from various sources, in hours per day

Average hours per person per day

A 3-D plot shows how different measures (words, hours, or bytes) give very different rankings for different media. TV is big by all three measures, for example, but computer games are huge in bytes, but modest in other categories.

Percentage of information from different media

Science Friday did a short interview with me on the report, here.

3 thoughts on “Measuring Information

  1. [comments from the NY Times blog; responses by Jim Short, coauthor of the report]
    29. chris new york city
    December 10th, 2009

    Since 50% of the data attributes to TV. I guess next year’s numbers can easily double or triple as more people switch over to HDTV.

    Nick Bilton
    Lead Technology Writer, Bits
    December 10th, 2009
    12:44 pm
    Chris – this is a really good point. The reason this study was much higher than past research can point to Video Games having much higher data delivery rates. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to these numbers as we consume more HDTV at home and streaming video on our mobile devices.

    Response by Jim Short:

    These are both interesting points. HDTV will affect our numbers, but not quickly, and we comment on it in our report. While sales began to take off in 2008, according to the Consumer Electronics Association more homes had HDTV sets (53% in January 2009) than could actually get HDTV signals (approximately 40%). Consumption of actual HDTV programs will increase gradually, so that in 5 years it could be much higher than today.

    On video streaming to mobile devices, bandwidth for mobile video is inherently very low, so it is unlikely to make much of an impact (unless there is a revolution in bandwidth availability).

  2. For readers following this thread on HDTV, the BBC today published a news story entitled “Most of the UK missing out on HD.” The gist of the story is that while many consumers may have the technology to view HD, they are not setting up their devices to do so: “Although 56% of UK households now have an HD television, 91% still watch standard DVDs and get their television through standard set-top boxes.” The news story is at:

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