Matt Richtel, one of the leading current peddlers of the "technology is eating our brains" meme, is fond of this assertion:
The average person today consumes almost three times as much information as what the typical person consumed in 1960, according to research at the University of California, San Diego.
That version is the lead paragraph of the online site for his appearance on Fresh Air, "Digital Overload: Your Brain On Gadgets", 8/24/2010. I was curious about what this sentence could mean, and more specifically, I wondered which UCSD researchers did the measurements, and what they they measured. Usually I can track down the source of a factoid from the scant clues typically left by passing journalists, but this one has defeated me, so I'm asking for help.
The same claim is featured in Richtel's story "Attached to Technology and Paying a Price", NYT 6/6/2010:
For better or worse, the consumption of media, as varied as e-mail and TV, has exploded. In 2008, people consumed three times as much information each day as they did in 1960.
Later in the same article, Richtel writes that
At home, people consume 12 hours of media a day on average, when an hour spent with, say, the Internet and TV simultaneously counts as two hours. That compares with five hours in 1960, say researchers at the University of California, San Diego.
This may be the same factoid, in which case the measurement of quantity of information consumed in much cruder than I imagined, being denominated in hours of exposure (with or without attention actually being paid, apparently).
Anyhow, I think it would be a public service for someone to go through Richtel's NYT series and provide some footnotes linking his spectacular assertions about "research" to the publications behind them. (And isn't it past time for science and technology articles in reputable publications to provide such links as a matter of course?)
[Update — a few additional Google Scholar probes turned up what is almost surely the source: Roger E. Bohn and James E. Short, "How Much Information? 2009 Report on American Consumers", Global Information Industry Center, UCSD. I'll have a bit more to say about this interesting document later on — meanwhile, feel free to discuss these issues in the comments, to whatever extent your poor information-riddled brains may permit.]