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New data says there's lots of new data

Researchers at U.C. Berkeley's School of Information Management and Systems estimate that the world stored 5 quintillion bytes of information in 2002, doubling 1999's total.

If you feel you're getting too much information, you can now cite a little more to prove it.

On Monday, researchers at the University of California evaluated, and contributed to, the information glut with the release of their report "How Much Information? 2003," which pegs the quantity of new information stored in 2002 at 5 exabytes, or 5 quintillion bytes.

That, said researchers at U.C. Berkeley's School of Information Management and Systems, amounts to the print collections of the Library of Congress--500,000 times over.

Still, while large, the 5 exabytes of stored information pales in comparison to the amount of information transmitted electronically in 2002, which the study estimated to be 18 exabytes.

The vast majority of that total--98 percent--was sent over telephone networks, both wireless and landline, in the form of data and voice.

The U.C. researchers estimated that stored information had doubled since its last study, which looked at the year 1999 and was released in 2000.

The new data about new data squares with both conventional wisdom and other studies that show Web usage continuing to grow despite the chaos that has characterized economies fueled by that growth.

But the study counted more than just Web and Internet information. It sought to canvas four storage media (print, film, magnetic and optical) and four channels (telephone, radio, television and the Internet).

Unsurprisingly, computers won out in the storage category: 92 percent of newly generated information was recorded on magnetic media like hard disks.

Paper, by contrast, accounted for a hundredth of a percent of the total. The study's authors pointed out that the amount of information stored on paper, while dwarfed by that stored by way of other media, is still increasing.

Nationally, the United States produced a plurality of the stored information--about 40 percent, with fully half of that stored on magnetic media.

Radio and TV broadcast content added a negligible amount of new information, as most information disseminated through those media is recycled, according to the report. Only 70 million of the 230 million radio hours in 2002 consisted of new content, and only 31 million of the 123 million TV hours.