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Last Updated: Friday, 31 October, 2003, 01:33 GMT
World drowning in oceans of data
Pile of papers and documents, Eyewire
If the exabytes don't get you, the paper will
Growing net, computer and phone use is driving a huge rise in the amount of information people generate and use.

US researchers 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.

Paper is still proving popular though. The amount of information stored in books, journals and other documents has grown 43% in three years.

Data deluge

The researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, 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 has revealed that every year since then the amount of information generated has grown about 30%.

But these percentages belie the vast mountains of information involved.

Hard disk, Eyewire
Most new information is captured on computer hard disks
Study authors Prof Peter Lyman and colleagues found that 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 such as the telephone, radio, television and internet.

Same old TV

In 2002, the study estimates that 18 exabytes of new information flowed through these channels. The vast majority of this, 98%, was in the form of person-to-person phone calls.

It also found that most of the information transmitted via radio and TV is not new information. The vast majority of it is 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 programmes count as new information.

Prof 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 was printed out.

One area that is gradually losing out to digital media is film. Prof Lyman said the increasing popularity of digital 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 revealed a picture of the average amount of time people spent with different sorts of media.

It showed 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 that uses the net spends more than 25 hours online a month at home and more than 74 hours on the net at work.

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

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