According to the cleverly-named Global Information Industry Center at San Diego University, Americans are being bombarded with new information. Sponsored by the Alfred “Punky” Sloan Foundation, AT&T, Cisco, IBM, Intel, LSI, Oracle, and Seagate—all organizations that are deeply concerned about our individual welfare—the How Much Information (HMI) research study set out to make us look like the complete maniacs we already know we are.
According to the GIIC website, 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.”
I am concerned that they did not mention cereal boxes, which I spend a lot of time reading. Also, why leave out work? I spend hours surfing the web at HarperOne, the publisher of the best books in the world. Sometimes I become so involved in the wonders of the Internet that I forget that I am at work and am startled when my boss Claudia Boutote walks into my office. “Claudia!” I have been known to say, “What are you doing here?”
The GIIC study says that since 1980 the amount of information absorbed by Americans has increased about 6 percent a year, though one wonders how they know what we are actually absorbing. I am perfectly capable of watching television for hours without absorbing anything, especially when I am asleep on the couch. The report says that television was our primary source of information, although this varied according to age: the average teenager watched less than four hours of television a day. This makes sense to me; my seventeen-year-old daughter Laura spends twenty hours a day texting, which gives her just enough time to watch the allotted amount of television. On the other hand, Americans between the ages of sixty and sixty-five watched seven or more hours of television a day. When asked why they watched so much television, these baby boomers said they were “waiting for Bonanza to come on.”
What is the significance of this study? How should I know? I don’t even know what a gigabyte is. (I do know what a ten-hole diatonic harmonica is and can elucidate its significance, and I have also been professionally trained to explain away the theological concept of predestination, but I don’t want to add to the burden of information you are already absorbing.) The GIIC website says they wanted to answer such questions as “What is the rate of new information growth each year? Who produces the greatest amounts of information annually?” They didn’t explain why they wanted to answer these questions. My guess is they don’t know why, anymore then all those people can explain why the want to summit Mount Everest. (“So we can say we littered there.”)
I think the real purpose of this study is to make us feel good about being Americans again. We may not manufacture anything here anymore; our banking industry may have standards lower than a Las Vegas casino run by mobsters; our two governing parties may be for sale to the highest bidder; but gosh darn it, we lead the world in gigabyte consumption and television watching. Who says America isn’t Number One?