Welcome to the information age – 174 newspapers a day
If you think that you are suffering from information overload then you may be right – a new study shows everyone is bombarded by the equivalent of 174 newspapers of data a day.
The growth in the internet, 24-hour television and mobile phones means that we now receive five times as much information every day as we did in 1986.
But that pales into insignificance compared with the growth in the amount of information we churn out through email, twitter, social networking sites and text messages.
Every day the average person produces six newspapers worth of information compared with just two and a half pages 24 years ago – nearly a 200-fold increase.
All this information needs storing and we now each have the equivalent of 600,000 books stored in computers, microchips and even the strip on the back of your credit card.
The extent of the information revolution and digital age has been calculated by Dr Martin Hilbert and his team at the University of southern California.
They used a complex formula to calculate the average amount of information stored – and sent – in the world – from every medium from computers to paper and books – to letters in the post.
"These figures show that we are in the middle of the information age," Dr Hilbert said.
"When you think that 100 years ago people were lucky to read the equivalent of 50 books in a lifetime but now most children have watched a couple of hundred movies.
"But the brain is a very plastic and very good at understanding and processing information."
The researchers surveyed 60 categories of analogue and digital technologies during the period from 1986 to 2007, and the results reflect our near complete transition to the digital age.
Using the analogy of an 85 page newspaper, they found that in 1986 we received around 40 newspapers full of information every day but this had rocketed to 174 in 2007.
In 1986 we sent out – mainly by post, telephone and fax – around two and a half pages of newspaper each day.
This had increased to six newspapers thanks to email, digital photography, Twitter and social network sites by 2007.
The actual switchover from analogue to digital occurred in 2002 and now 94 per cent of all data is stored in a digital form.
Just 10 years ago – it was just a quarter, the vast majority still stored on video and audio cassettes.
The world’s capacity for two-way telecommunication, such as internet and phone networks, grew by 28 per cent per year while one way information flows through television and radio grew at the much more modest rate of six per cent per year.
The researchers, who reported their findings in the journal Science, found that there was now 295 exabytes of data floating around the world – that's 29,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces of information.
While this is enormous – 315 times the number of grains of sand on Earth – Dr Hilbert points out it is still less than one per cent of the information that is stored in the DNA of a single human being.
The ability to process all this information with computers has doubled every 18 months and with telecommunication devices has doubled every two years.
But despite it showing enormous growth, Dr Hilbert said we are far from saturation point and nowhere near dealing with the amount of information contended with in the natural world.
Dr Martin Hilbert, of the University of California, said: "These numbers are impressive, but still minuscule compared to the order of magnitude at which nature handles information.
"Compared to nature, we are but humble apprentices. If we tried to store the name of every star in the Universe we could only file one per cent."