174newspapers

Are You Consuming 174 Newspapers Worth Of Information A Day?

Photo courtesy of McKenzie Oerting via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic. 

While the eyes are the window to the soul, they’re also recipients of unfathomable heaps of information —  the delivery of which may cause harm to our bodies.

Human beings are increasingly computer-like, creating, consuming, and storing more information than ever before thanks to the growth of digital communication. The impact of technology on our data capacity, however, is not without potential pitfalls.

Dr Martin Hilbert, a renowned multidisciplinary science researcher and author, has published several research projects on the startling extent of global technological capacity. Research is ongoing, but the results thus far are substantial enough to change the way we understand the growth of the average human’s processing capabilities.

Remember newspapers? Whether you read them or not (only 23 percent of Americans did so in 2012), Dr Hilbert uses the 84-page relic to scale the growth of information capacity.

A study of technology-driven information explosion between 1986 and 2007 revealed that, as of 2007:

  • Every day, the average person produced about six newspapers worth of information through computer and phone communication. That’s compared to just two and a half pages 24 years ago.
  • Such communication has increased by 28 percent every year since 1986 — five times as fast as the United States’ GDP.174and450nm
  • Between GPS, texts, phones, and TV, the average person received 174 newspapers worth of information (through computer, TV, etc) every day through technology, as opposed to 40 in 1986
  • There were 295 exabytes of data floating around the world – that’s 29,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 pieces of information (over 315 times the grains of sand on Earth), but still less than 1 percent of information stored on an individual’s DNA.
  • 94 percent of our technological memory was stored in digital format
[contextly_auto_sidebar id=”YPWDhhomI54v4BUYnblMjk5USSdpLOxI”] And remember, though the research was published in 2011, it’s been 7 years since these estimations held true — meaning the numbers are likely even greater today. And yet, Dr Hilbert notes, in comparison to nature’s information capacity, these numbers are miniscule.

The flip side

The mind-boggling and exponential growth of information capacity is a testimony to the wonders of the human mind. But as we know, technology can be as detrimental as it can be helpful — and though our bodies will adapt to these changes, there is still risk and potentially long-term effects we have no way of knowing yet.

Already, studies show various causes of health concern stemming from our data consumption — not in the actual data itself, but in the delivery of such information. These include:

  • Optical health: The blue light from cell phones, televisions, and computer screens can cause damage to the retina — especially when consumed at night time. Straining eyes can also cause blurred vision and headaches.
  • Sleep issues: The light from cell phones and other devices disrupts the brain’s production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep cycles.
  • Cancer: Blue light at night has been linked to higher risk of breast and prostate cancer, again due to the interruption of melatonin
  • Mental health: The Internet (and social media, especially) has been correlated with increased anxiety, decreased well-being, and feelings of inadequacy.
  • Memory: Internet use can shorten attention spans and change the way we remember things
  • Physical health: The posture adopted during excessive computer and phone use can lead to neck and back pain
  • Auditory health: Headphones can cause hearing impairment at volumes of over 100 decibels.

Basically, the brain is for the most part ready to handle mass amounts of information input — but maybe our bodies aren’t quite as evolved yet. Limiting digital exposure isn’t a bad idea; heck, we could probably stand to cut daily consumption down to 100 newspapers. Who knows — it could do wonders for our eyes, ears, and emotional health.

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert