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How Much Information Is There, Anyway? Once the imaginative only dreamed about unanswered questions, like how many fairies danced on the head of a pin. Now researchers are actually trying to quantify the unknown–including the amounts and kinds of information businesses and consumers are producing worldwide. Just last week, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, announced the launch of a “How Much Information?” study at the Global Information Industry Center of the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, with support from the Jacobs School of Engineering and the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

“Experts say we live in an information economy, but how much information is there, and do countries count and value information comparably?” asks IR/PS dean Peter F. Cowhey.

The new, three year study will involve specialists from the University of California and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as industry experts from AT&T, Cisco Systems, IBM, LSI, Oracle, Seagate Technology LLC, and PARC. “We have designed this research as a partnership between industry and academics to take the next steps in understanding how to think about, measure, and understand the implications of dramatic growth in digital information,” explains Roger Bohn, a professor at UC San Diego, co-leader of the new program. “As the costs per byte of creating, storing, and moving data fall, the amounts rise exponentially. We know that overall information technology increases productivity and human welfare, but not all information is equally valuable.”

Is it Good to Instant Message on the Job? Apparently, it is. A recent study by researchers at Ohio State University and the University of California, Irvine found that workers who used instant messaging on the job reported less interruption than colleagues who did not.

Researchers had speculated that workers would use instant messaging in addition to the phone and e-mail, leading to increased interruption and reduced productivity. However, they found instant messaging was often used as a substitute for other, more disruptive forms of communication, including the phone, e-mail and face-to-face conversations.

“The effect of instant messaging is actually positive. People who used instant messaging reported that they felt they were being interrupted less frequently,” notes R. Kelly Garrett, co-author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State. Instead of dropping in unexpectedly, employees may use instant messaging to check the availability of coworkers, get quick answers to general questions or inquire about work tasks instead of engaging in longer, face-to-face conversations.

“People had enough time to learn about the technology at home and to find ways to use it productively,” adds Garrett, who conducted the study with James N. Danziger, a professor of political science at the UC, Irvine. It was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Center for Research on Information Technology and Organizations at UC, Irvine.

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