Information consumption charts of the day

By Felix Salmon
December 9, 2009
new paper (37-page PDF here) on how much information Americans consume each day:

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I love these charts, from a new paper (37-page PDF here) on how much information Americans consume each day:

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The last one is the most surprising to me — but it’s largely a function of the fact that a lot of technological prowess goes into compression and decompression of television signals, while that isn’t needed in computer games. As you can see from the hourly chart, we still spend more than five times as much time in front of the telly as we do gaming.

As someone who stares at a computer screen for most of the day, and doesn’t even have a television, I’m a bit surprised at the fact that people still seem to be spending far more time with the latter than with the former. Indeed, even radio still seems to outweigh computers in terms of total hours used — and over half of radio listening still takes place at home, as opposed to at work or in the car, according to the Arbitron data used for this report.

But look closely at the report, and things become blurrier. It’s not clear what they did with the radio figures, but it looks to me as though they included time spent in the car but excluded time spent at work. And the computer figures exclude time spent at work, although it’s unclear what they do with people who work from home.

In other words, this isn’t total information consumption: it’s just the information we consume at home and in our cars, rather than at work. Given the increasing erosion of the line between work and home, I do wonder why that decision was made. But in any case, even after excluding the workplace, Americans still consumed 3.6 zettabytes of information in 2008, and will surely consume more in 2009. And the information we get from computers (as opposed to computer games) is barely visible in that number.

(HT: Matlin)


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There’s a strong tendency to think people are more like ourselves and people we see regularly to a greater degree than is true. In March, when Grandpa had a health scare, I flew back to Iowa to visit him and help Grandma, and was a bit jarred to see her paying for groceries with a check. I think of that every time you complain about the use of paper checks; I support the promotion of an infrastructure for something more efficient, and even a move toward nudging people toward it, but I hope when I’m in my eighties I’m not forced out of my long-term habits in managing basic functions of my everyday life.

Anyway, I’m certain that Grandma in Iowa spends a lot more time at home with the radio than with the internet, and my soon to be father-in-law, in a trailer park in rural Arkansas, certainly pushes up the TV-to-computer ratio. While I, too, spend way too much time on the internet and have no TV, I try (when I’m conscious of it) not to imagine that everyone else is the same.

Posted by dWj | Report as abusive

If I listen to the radio while interneting, it that time counted double?

Posted by drewbie | Report as abusive