From: Norman J. Jacknis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Fri Oct 20 2000 - 22:27:38 EDT
Some food for thought.
Society grappling with info overload
By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO - A study out Thursday from the University of California,
Berkeley, graphically confirms what most of us already know: We're awash in
a sea of information, and the tide is rising.
What might not be quite so evident is that we as individuals - rather than
publishers and other public sources - are responsible for most of the data
generated each year, in forms such as office documents, photographs and home
"Today, individuals are creating and distributing huge amounts of
information. It's a huge revolution and a true democratic movement," says
Peter Lyman, a professor at Berkeley's School of Information Management and
Systems and co-author of the study with the school's dean, Hal Varian.
To measure all kinds of information - visual, oral and textual - with a
common yardstick, the project team settled on the amount of computer space
(in the bytes so familiar these days) it would take to store the
The study found that - fueled by ever-falling prices for digital storage,
increasing computer power and the rise of the Net - the total amount of
unique information generated worldwide each year is about 1.5 exabytes. One
exabyte is 1 followed by 18 zeroes. Stored on floppy disks, the information
would stack 2 million miles high.
Were it to be divided up among every man, woman and child on the planet, it
would require that each be given the equivalent of a library of 250 books,
or roughly 250 megabytes of data - an amount that would fill about half a
The report, published at www.sims.berkeley.edu/how-much-info, looks at the
amount of data generated worldwide that appears in print, is sent via radio
or television, or is stored optically (such as on CDs and DVDs) or
magnetically (on hard drives and tapes).
The rise of computers has brought about an enormous democratization of data,
the study found. Most information used to come from authoritative sources -
governments, publishing houses, newspapers and magazines - and was edited
before being made available to the public.
A century ago, the average person created only a small amount of information
in his or her life, perhaps a stack of letters and an album of photographs.
Now office workers are responsible for writing more than 80% of all original
paper documents. The mass of e-mail sent by individuals is 500 times larger
than the entire collection of Web pages.
This is an important milestone, says David Shenk, author of Data Smog:
Surviving the Information Glut. "It's a sea change in how human beings deal
with one another. It's no longer a question of access to information, but
the challenge of weeding through to find what you need."
In fact, Varian and Lyman found that 93% of the information produced each
year is stored digitally. Soon, they predict, it will be possible for the
average person to access virtually all recorded information.
"We have to be a lot more attentive to how well information is designed,"
Lyman says. "Until now, we've thought of information in the context of the
medium it's stored in. Now we'll start to think of the medium in the context
of how it's used."
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