Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

You’re too busy to read it, but…

Peter Lyman and Hal Varian, two professors at U. C. Berkeley, have a project measuring the amount of information produced in the world in a year:

Soon it will be technologically possible for an average person to access virtually all recorded information. The natural question then becomes: how much information is there to store? If we wanted to store “everything,” how much storage would it take?

We have conducted a study to answer this question. In particular, we have estimated yearly US and world production of originals and copies for the most common forms of information media. We have also attempted to estimate the cumulated stock of information in various formats. Finally, we have described the magnitudes of some communication flows that are currently not stored but may well be in the future.

The summary is worth reading.

The bottom line: about 250 megabytes per person. What’s really interesting are three broad trends that they find:

The first is the “paucity of print.” Printed material of all kinds makes up less than .003 percent of the total storage of information….

The second striking fact is the “democratization of data.” A vast amount of unique information is created and stored by individuals. Original documents created by office workers are more than 80% of all original paper documents, while photographs and X-rays together are 99% of all original film documents….

The third interesting finding is the “dominance of digital” content. Not only is digital information production the largest in total, it is also the most rapidly growing. While unique content on print and film are hardly growing at all, optical and digital magnetic storage shipments are doubling each year.

All interesting notions. Though you probably can’t ask this question without finding some cool trend. Michael Lesk made an estimate in 1997 of the total amount of information in the world, and noticed two big trends. First, that in the future “we will be able save everything:” the idea of having to make a choice about what information to preserve will seem anachronistic. Second, “the typical piece of information will never be looked at by a human being,” but rather will be analyzed by a machine– if anyone.

[via Smart Mobs]

1 Comment

  1. This sort of thing merely perpetuates on of the great errors of our time. Apparently word has yet to get around that there is no such thing as “information.” For discussion and demonstration I refer you to

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