Info Capacity| Measuring Consumer Information

Roger Bohn, James E. Short


How much media information, of what kinds and delivered on what devices, do Americans consume? We measure each consumer information stream using three different measures of what is consumed: hours, words and bytes, and sum across each recipient. We estimate that in 2008 Americans consumed about 1.3 trillion hours of information outside of work, an average of almost 12 hours per person per day. Media consumption totaled 3.6 zettabytes and 1,080 trillion words, corresponding to 100,500 words and 34 gigabytes for the average person on an average day. We measure information flows, not stocks, and find that information consumption measured in bytes grew at an annual rate of 5.4% from 1980 to 2008, only a few percentage points greater than GDP growth over this period. We report our findings for different media types, including television, the Internet and computer games, and discuss the utility of analyzing contrasting measures of information consumption in totaling how much media information Americans consume.

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