America Hungry, Need Data

Data Consumption

One upside to the downturn is that the average American has a smaller food budget these days, so perhaps we can finally get our arms around the enormous domestic weight problem. Even our Super Models are getting skinnier! But while our hunger for hamburgers may be facing a forced downsizing, our insatiable appetite for information continues to balloon. Just how big is this lust for bytes? According to a new study by the University of California, San Diego, from 1980 through 2008 the total number of bytes bitten by Americans has upped by 6% per year and now stands at an incredibly huge sounding 3.6 zettabytes. (Or one billion trillion bytes, if that's easier to imagine.) The Upswing is, of course, interested in unlikely economic indicators of good news and this is surely one. How lean, after all, can the times be when we continue to gorge on data? And someone has to produce all this content, which means the future of electronic innovation appears to be rather secure. Here we break down what 3.6 zettabytes—or 34 gigabytes a day—means in terms of daily consumption.

[Data via Bits]
Infographic: Rob Vargas

Add New Comment


  • Stuart Ackerman

    These numbers are scary! As an educator, these stats confirm my belief that young people should be reading and stuyding more.
    Online Tutor

  • Stuart Ackerman

    Those numbers are scary! As an educator, this supports my beliefs that young people should spend more time studying and reading.

  • Roger Bohn

    Ms. Cooney is correct - the numbers are off. Too bad, as it's a very nice picture in other respects. The total consumption is only 12 hours per day, for example. Per day, 34 GB per person; the 3.6ZB number is the entire US for an entire year. See the original report or my blog for more information.

  • Tyler Gray

    I'm confused about the confusion. I went back and checked the data again. If you add up the monthly hours spent gaming in all its various forms (handheld, console, and PC, as the graphic suggests), then divide by 30, you arrive at the number we used for per-day time spent. "Other," I'll admit, is a bit misleading. Not sure why that didn't get labeled "gaming." As the editor, I'll shoulder that one. But radio checks out the same way, too. Add up terrestrial plus satellite, divide by 30 and you arrive at the correct number. Also, there were a few liberties taken when using, say, the Howard Stern Show to represent both terrestrial and satellite radio, but that, I believe, is an acceptable amount of leeway to illustrate the practical side of the equation in the space allotted. Thanks for this. And thanks for sharing with your students. -tg

  • Kimberly Cooney

    I went and looked at the actual report itself and I'm pretty sure this infographic (while very cool and a great stimulator of discussion--I'm using it with my students tomorrow) represents the data incorrectly. Radio, according to the report, is the equivalent of 2.24 hours a day not 5; same with computer gaming (classified as other on this chart) which is reported at less than an hour per day not the 5 of the graphic.

    Am I reading the report/graphic wrong somehow? Is the graphic supposed to be a parody of the typical "geek" who visits sites like Neatorama and Fast Company? (I'm sure we skew higher than the average) Any thoughts before I spring this on my students?