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December 15, 2009

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How Much Information? 2009 Report on American Consumers

Executive Summary

In 2008, Americans consumed information for about 1.3 trillion hours, an average of almost 12 hours per day. Consumption totaled 3.6 zettabytes and 10,845 trillion words, corresponding to 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for an average person on an average day. A zettabyte is 10 to the 21st power bytes, a million million gigabytes. These estimates are from an analysis of more than 20 different sources of information, from very old (newspapers and books) to very new (portable computer games, satellite radio, and Internet video). Information at work is not included.

We defined "information" as flows of data delivered to people and we measured the bytes, words, and hours of consumer information. Video sources (moving pictures) dominate bytes of information, with 1.3 zettabytes from television and approximately 2 zettabytes of computer games. If hours or words are used as the measurement, information sources are more widely distributed, with substantial amounts from radio, Internet browsing, and others. All of our results are estimates.

Previous studies of information have reported much lower quantities. Two previous How Much Information? studies, by Peter Lyman and Hal Varian in 2000 and 2003, analyzed the quantity of original content created, rather than what was consumed. A more recent study measured consumption, but estimated that only .3 zettabytes were consumed worldwide in 2007.

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