|World drowning in a rising sea of information
Saturday November 1, 2003
Academics in California have confirmed what every office worker in the
land has known for years: we are drowning in a rising sea of information.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, say the amount of
information being generated worldwide has increased by 30% each year since
1999, and that the amount being stored has doubled in that time.
That means 800 megabytes of data - roughly equivalent to 800 books - was
created for every man, woman and child in 2002.
The research team studied information stored on paper, film, and optical
and magnetic media, and measured the vast flows of information across the
internet. They found the new information, stored on everything from hard
disk drives to paper, added up to 5m terabytes - or 5 million million MB -
last year alone.
Attempting to make that figure a little more imaginable, the team
estimated this adds up to the contents of half a million new Libraries of
These libraries, however, would not hold many masterpieces in their
electronic soup. Much of the information came not from books and journals,
but from the more mundane: office documents and mail.
Peter Lyman, one of the leaders of the research team, said the surge in
information was due to a new-found desire to document all that happens
around us. "All of a sudden, almost every aspect of life around the world
is being recorded and stored in some information format," he said.
But last night David Lewis, a psychologist who works with big business to
tackle stress and information-overload problems, said: "I certainly think
there's a data overload - and an awful lot of the data that is generated
is entirely redundant. Information is something which is valuable, which
you can use. Data is just junk."
Dr Lewis said today's infonauts would need to learn new ways to sift
through information by developing reading skills to rapidly extract useful
information. "Have a reading purpose in mind when you go to any piece of
information," he advised. "If there is no purpose, and you're not reading
for pleasure, then just don't bother."
And William Dutton, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, also warned
the numbers used in the report could be a little misleading. "Clearly the
report puts some numbers on an essentially valid trend," he said. "But it
lacks some base validity by measuring it in bits - the complete works of
Shakespeare is less than three high-resolution photographs."