Last year, the average American consumed 34 gigabytes of information a day, according to new research from UC San Diego.
Add up all of that information -- which includes both old media like books and newspapers, and new media like the Internet and video games -- and you get 3.6 zettabytes, which is, it's safe to say, a lot. Since 1980, the amount of data we consume has risen 350 percent, according to the study.
"This report is a snapshot of what the information revolution means to the average American," said Roger Bohn, director of UCSD's Global Information Industry Center and co-author of the report.
Between television, radio and the Web, we each read or hear about 100,000 words daily, says the report. And while print media consumption has dropped off, "if you add up the amount of time people spend surfing the Web, they are actually reading more than ever," Bohn told the New York Times.
One surprising finding is that video games are the biggest culprit in terms of gigabytes consumed -- 18.5 GB per person per day. The researchers also found that an astounding 80 percent of consumers play video games, which can include anything from Tetris on your cellphone to social networking games.
Here's something I find particularly shocking: Americans only spent 16 percent of their "information hours" on the Internet in 2008, compared to TV's 41 percent and the radio's 17 percent. Personally, my daily radio usage is officially zero, compared to, say, 80 percent for the Internet.
But while the numbers on Internet usage may seem low, the Web accounts for 57 percent of two-way communication, with cellphones and landlines making up the rest, according to the study.
Speaking of phones and data usage, AT&T, which happened to help finance the UCSD study, is complaining about the amount of information its iPhone customers are gulping down. Ralph de la Vega, head of consumer services, told investors at a UBS conference in New York on Wednesday that AT&T is considering reining in the worst of the data hogs by providing them with incentives to cut down on their usage. According to the executive, 3 percent of smartphone users are eating up 40 percent of AT&T's network capacity.
Thanks to its inability to support the demands of iPhone users, AT&T has become the villain that everyone loves to hate, and the blogosphere has piled on. A blogger on Wired's Epicenter suggested that rather than trying to curb usage, AT&T should just stop selling iPhones in New York and San Francisco: "If you can't handle the network traffic, stop selling a device that comes with a promise of unlimited 3G data service."
If there's one thing the UCSD study makes clear, it's that our data consumption is only rising (at a 6 percent yearly clip, in fact). And while smartphones still account for a relatively low proportion of our nation's daily diet of gigabytes, that is going to change -- rapidly.We're becoming a country of data hogs, and companies like AT&T are going to have to make plans to deal with it.