Solid data on "messages received" increasing over time?
May 4, 2015 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm working on something with the sloppy premise that over the gradual shift from print to digital, communications isn't a zero-sum game. The general idea is that the introduction of things like first the Internet and e-mail, and later social media and texting, have increased the total number of messages people receive, and that people are increasingly "messaged at" over time. What sources can help me prove this, or disprove it?

It feels like a common-sensey assumption, but might just be "truthy" (or even just wrong). It seems like something that should be quantifiable, as one can count (roughly) the number of texts/e-mails/billboards/newspapers/web sites/etc. they see in a day, but either my Google-Fu is staggeringly weak, or this is a fairly unexplored area.

I'm wondering whether there's any solid numbers or data that somehow show that people are communicating, or being communicated at, more now than they were five years ago, ten years ago, etc., and that the introduction of new channels of communication increases the overall total communications load.

Or that show this premise is false. I'm happy either way.
posted by Shepherd to Technology (5 answers total)
Instead of "messages", would just "information" be a better term? Before printed media, information was communicated orally. If someone wasn't talking at you, you were kinda an information vacuum. Even when written communication started taking off, many were illiterate. If someone wasn't reading to you, information vacuum again. Then if you were literate, you could read and a world of information opened up to you. With the invention of the printing press, reading books became cheaper. Then with computers and the internet, there was even more information.

One could call this increase of overall total communications load that you reference information overload.
posted by Brian Puccio at 1:52 PM on May 4, 2015

Best answer: I think you will need to break it down. For example:
  • Twitter Usage Statistics shows what you're interested in for tweets, with a nice graph.
  • This article shows similar statistics for email (though I found others with different numbers, but the order of magnitude was about right).
  • Here is some data on texts.
All of these support the idea that total communications is increasing at a fast rate, though I didn't look closely enough to be able to characterize it as linear or exponential or something else.
posted by ubiquity at 2:03 PM on May 4, 2015

Seems to me that it would be difficult to make such statistics meaningful. Text, email, twitter, facebook, etc. tend to break what once would've been a single long conversation or letter into many discreet pieces.
posted by jon1270 at 2:10 PM on May 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't have your answer directly, but you might want to grab a copy of The First Measured Century, which has a lot of the data you might be interested in. It goes from 1900 to 2000 and has things like number of phone calls and time spent on the phone, letters sent / received, etc. A used copy will only set you back $4 or so.

Obviously you'll want to get newer statistics than 2000 for a lot of things, but it would give you a starting point.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:55 PM on May 4, 2015

Best answer: Well, there's this 90% of the worlds data generated in the past two years stat from... two years ago. Wouldn't surprise me if the ratio has gone up quite a bit since then, even.

People are definitely communicating electronically exponentially more given that. Not all that data is person to person communication, but it's not going in to a black hole either.
posted by emptythought at 7:04 PM on May 4, 2015

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