The unix "load average" is a measurement of system activity.
An idle computer has a load average of 0. A process that can use all CPU time adds 1 point to the load average. A process that is waiting for I/O to happen also adds 1 point to the load average.
You can think of a load average between 0..1 as a percentage of system utilization. For example, a load average of 0.25 means that the system is 25% busy. Load averages greater than 1 indicate resource overcommitment. For example, a load average of 2 means that the computer would need to be twice as fast to handle the entire process schedule.