What Is the Content of the World’s Technologically Mediated Information and Communication Capacity

How Much Text, Image, Audio, and Video?

The Information Society


This article asks whether the global process of digitization has led to noteworthy changes in the shares of the amount of text, images, audio, and video in worldwide technologically stored and communicated information content. We empirically quantify the amount of information that is globally broadcast, telecommunicated, and stored (1986–2007) and assess the evolution of the respective content shares. Somewhat unexpectedly, it turns out that the transfer from analog to digital has not led to toward increasing shares of media-rich audio and video content, despite vastly increased bandwidth. First, there is a certain inertia in the evolution of content, which seems to stick to stable proportions independent of its technological medium (be it analog vinyl and VHS tapes, or digital CDs and hard disks). Second, the relative share of text and still images actually captures a larger portion of the total amount than before the digital age. Text merely represented 0.3% of the (optimally compressed) bits that flowed through global information channels in 1986 but grew to almost 30% in 2007. On another level, we are seeing an increasing transition of text and images from one-way information diffusion networks (like newspapers) to digital storage and two-way telecommunications networks, where they are more socially embedded. Both tendencies are good news for big-data analysts who extract intelligence from easily analyzable text and image data.

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