Roger E. Bohn, James E. Short *

Indeed, data in the 21st century is largely ephemeral, because it is so easily produced: a machine creates it, uses it for a few seconds and overwrites it as new data arrives. Some data is never examined at all, such as scientific experiments that collect so much raw data that scientists never look at most of it. Only a fraction ever gets stored on a medium such as a hard drive, tape or sheet of paper. Yet even ephemeral data often has ‘descendants’— new data based on the old. Think of data as oil and information as gasoline: a tanker of crude oil is not useful until it arrives, its cargo unloaded and refined into gasoline that is distributed to service stations. Data is not information until it becomes available to potential consumers of that information. On the other hand, data, like crude oil, contains potential value.
There are probably hundreds of definitions of information, and even the way we use the term in daily conversation changes depending on the topic. For looking at consumers, we choose to define information as data that is delivered for use by a person.

1 thought on “Roger E. Bohn, James E. Short *

  1. shinichi Post author

    How Much Information? 2009 Report on American Consumers

    Roger E. Bohn, James E. Short

    http://hmi.ucsd.edu/pdf/HMI_2009_ConsumerReport_Dec9_2009.pdf

    1.1 Data and Information

    We distinguish between data and information. Information is a subset of data – but what is data? For our purposes, we define data as artificial signals intended to convey meaning. ‘Artificial,’ because data is created by machines, such as microphones, cameras, environmental sensors, barcode readers, or computer keyboards. Streams of data from sensors are extensively transformed by a series of machines, such as cable routers (location change), storage devices (time shift), and computers (symbol and meaning change). These transformations, in turn, create new data.

    Past high-level studies have generally measured data of only two kinds: data that gets stored, and data that is transmitted over long distances, such as over the Internet backbone. We greatly expand on these two categories. For example, we include data that is transmitted over a local area network (LAN), such as a home Wi-Fi (802.11) wireless network, and data that is never stored in a permanent way.

    Indeed, data in the 21st century is largely ephemeral, because it is so easily produced: a machine creates it, uses it for a few seconds and overwrites it as new data arrives. Some data is never examined at all, such as scientific experiments that collect so much raw data that scientists never look at most of it. Only a fraction ever gets stored on a medium such as a hard drive, tape or sheet of paper. Yet even ephemeral data often has ‘descendants’— new data based on the old. Think of data as oil and information as gasoline: a tanker of crude oil is not useful until it arrives, its cargo unloaded and refined into gasoline that is distributed to service stations. Data is not information until it becomes available to potential consumers of that information. On the other hand, data, like crude oil, contains potential value.

    1.2 What Is Information?

    There are probably hundreds of definitions of information, and even the way we use the term in daily conversation changes depending on the topic. For looking at consumers, we choose to define information as data that is delivered for use by a person. Our measures of information include all data delivered directly to people at home, whether for personal consumption (such as entertainment), for communication (e.g., email) or for any other reason. Some data delivered to machines could also be considered information, but only if it is factored into a decision or action. We will not analyze it in this report. Figure 1 Information Flows in a Home shows some of the data flows around a home. The data displayed directly to consumers, shown by the wide arrow, is the information we are interested in.

    As we will show, there are a wide variety of types of information consumed daily, such as:

    • Text in readable form such as on a printed page or cell phone display;

    • Moving pictures on a TV, in a movie theater or on a computer screen;

    • An MP3 audio track received through earphones or speakers;

    • An electronic spreadsheet

    For the purposes of this study, information is ‘useful’ in itself, while data is only a means to ultimately produce information. In many situations, a lot of data is created and then filtered and manipulated to produce a relatively small amount of information. For example, the “signal strength”bar on your cellphone is the result of continuously monitoring radio signals from a cellphone tower. A 30 second TV commercial is the result of shooting, converting, and editing hours of raw footage. Data can also be expanded, as when that TV commercial is sent to millions of TVs simultaneously.

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    Flows versus stocks of information

    Our definition emphasizes flows of data – data in motion. We count every flow that is delivered to a person as information.

    Another approach goes to the opposite extreme: it counts data that is stored somewhere, such as a book, whether or not it is subsequently used.

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    Simultaneous information

    We do not adjust for double counting in our analysis. If someone is watching TV and using the computer at the same time, our data sources will record this as two hours of total information. This is consistent with most other researchers. Note, though, that this means there are theoretically more than 24 hours in an information day!

    The use of multiple simultaneous sources of information is analyzed extensively in Middletown Media Studies: Media Multitasking … and how much people really use the media by Robert A. Papper, Michael E. Holmes, and Mark N. Popovich.

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